From The Oldest and the Newest Empire;
China and the United States

By William Speer
Cincinnati: National Publishing Co., 1870

[Speer's book is mainly a description of China, but it includes several chapters on the Chinese in America, drawn from his observations in the West and his acquaintances among the immigrant community in California. As part of his polemical description of the discrimination and abuses they have suffered, Speer includes the following remonstrance from the Chinese themselves. It was written, he writes, by Mr. Pun Chi, at the request of a group of Chinese merchants and other "leading men" in San Francisco, and given to Speer to translate and lay before the American public.

Speer's book also included the following illustrations of the Chinese in America, which are noticeably less stereotypical than most depictions.



The sincere and gracious attention of your honorable body is earnestly requested to the consideration of certain matters important to our peace as foreigners, the following statements of which may be relied upon as certainly true and correct:

We are natives of the empire of China, each following some employment or profession--literary men, farmers, mechanics or merchants. When your honorable government threw open the territory of California, the people of other lands were welcomed here to search for gold and to engage in trade. The ship-masters of your respected nation came over to our country, lauded the equality of your laws, extolled the beauty of your manners and customs, and made it known that your officers and people were extremely cordial toward the Chinese. Knowing well the harmony which had existed between our respective governments, we trusted in your sincerity. Not deterred by the long voyage, we came here presuming that our arrival would be hailed with cordiality and favor. But, alas! what times are these!--when former kind relations are forgotten, when we Chinese are viewed like thieves and enemies, when in the administration of justice our testimony is not received, when in the legal collection of the licenses we are injured and plundered, and villains of other nations are encouraged to rob and do violence to us! Our numberless wrongs it is most painful even to recite. At the present time, if we desire to quit the country, we are not possessed of the pecuniary means; if allowed to remain, we dread future troubles. But yet, on the other hand, it is our presumption that the conduct of the officers of justice here has been influenced by temporary prejudices and that your honorable government will surely not uphold their acts. We are sustained by the confidence that the benevolence of your eminent body, contemplating the people of the whole world as one family, will most assuredly not permit the Chinese population without guilt to endure injuries to so cruel a degree. We would therefore present the following twelve subjects for consideration at your bar. We earnestly pray that you would investigate and weigh them; that you would issue instructions to your authorities in each State that they shall cast away their partial and unjust practices, restore tranquillity to us strangers, and that you would determine whether we are to leave the country or to remain. Then we will endure ensuing calamities without repining, and will cherish for you sincere gratitude and most profound respect.

The twelve subjects, we would state with great respect, are as follows:

1. The unrighteousness of humiliating and hating
the Chinese as a people.

We have heard that your honorable nation reverences Heaven. But if they comprehend the reverence that is due to the heavenly powers, of necessity they cannot humiliate and hate the Chinese. Why do we aver this? At the very beginning of time, Heaven produced a most holy man, whose name was Pwan-ku. He was the progenitor of the people of China. All succeeding races have branched off from them. The central part of the earth is styled by its inhabitants the Middle Flowery Kingdom. That is the country of the Chinese. The regions occupied by later races are distributed round and subordinate to it. Heaven causes it to produce in the greatest variety and abundance, so that of all under the sky this country is the greatest, and has bestowed upon it perfect harmony with the powers of nature, so that all things there attain the highest perfection. Hence we see that Heaven most loves our Chinese people, and multiplies its gifts to them beyond any other race.

From the time of Pwan-ku till the present, a period of many tens of thousand of years, there have been born among us a host of sages, such as Fu-hi, Shin-nung, Hwaug-ti, Yau, Shun, Yu, Pang, Wan, Wu and Chaukung. Gifted by Heaven, they attained consummate excellence. Their beneficent influence extended not alone around them, it shed peace upon all nations. In the days of Yau our people were styled the Tang, which has been a favorite designation of themselves until now. After some centuries, Heaven again produced a sage preeminent and alone in his excellence, whose name was Confucius, whom it made the great teacher of China. He combined what was greatest and best in all that preceded him, and became the teacher and exemplar of all ages. As to things on high, he showed men the fear of Heaven; as to things on earth, he taught them virtue. The sages of whom we have spoken had the wisdom to discern that all men on earth are one family. Now what is meant in styling all men on earth one family? It is, that the people of China, or of countries foreign to it, are all embraced, as it were, in one great circle of kindred, with its parents and children, its elder and younger branches, its bonds of unity; the pervading principle, love; no one member debased, none treated with dislike. Again, after several centuries, Heaven brought forth one Jesus, and ordained him to be a teacher to foreign lands. Now Jesus also taught mankind the fear of Heaven. He showed that the chief end is to pray for eternal life. He comprehended the reverence due to Heaven, and the obligations of virtue. He was in accord with the holy men of China. He looked on all beneath the sky as one great family. He did not permit distinctions of men into classes to be loved or despised. But now, if the religion of Jesus really teaches the fear of Heaven, how does it come that the people of your honorable country on the contrary trample upon and hate the race which Heaven most loves, that is, the Chinese? Should this not be called rebellion against Heaven? And how is it possible to receive this as of the religion of Heaven?

2. An appeal to the principle which lies at the foundation
of Chinese government and society.

The wise men of China plant at the very foundation of government the idea of virtue, not that of physical power, just as do those professing the religion of Jesus Christ. Virtue is that which commands the intuitive submission of the human will. Great vessels of war and powerful artillery may destroy cities and devastate a country. That is physical power. But moral power is essentially different from mechanical power. The noblest illustration of moral power is the teacher at the head of his school--as much so as the locomotive and the telegraph are of mechanical skill. It is the spirit of man that deserves respect, not his form. If the spirit be noble and good, although the man be poor and humble, his features homely and his apparel mean, we honor him and love him. If the spirit be not so, though the man have wealth and position, though his countenance be beautiful and his clothing rich, we regard him with contempt and dislike. But we do affirm that the reason why the people of your honorable country dislike the Chinese is this, and no other--they look at the plain appearance and the patched clothes of their poor, and they do not think how many spirits there are among them whom they could respect and love.

3. A brief statement of the manner in which our Chinese government
acts toward foreigners.

China possesses a mutual trade with all foreign lands. When a man from another country arrives in China, none of our officers and common people treat him otherwise than with respect and kindness. In case he be defrauded or injured, where it is a small matter the offender is fined or punished corporeally; in a graver one he forfeits his life. Even though there be no witnesses, still the local officers must thoroughly inquire into the circumstances. In murders and brawls, if the criminal be not discovered the magistrate is called to account and degraded from his office. When a foreigner commits a deed of violence against a Chinese, a spirit of great leniency and care is manifested in the judgment of the case. Not because there is not power to punish. But we sincerely dread to mar the beautiful idea of gentleness and benignity toward the stranger from afar.

Now why is it that, when our people come to your country, instead of being welcomed with unusual respect and kindness, on the contrary they are treated with unusual contempt and evil? Hence many lose their lives at the hands of lawless wretches. Yet though there be Chinese witnesses of the crime, their testimony is rejected. The result is our utter abandonment to be murdered and that of our business to be ruined. How hard for the spirit to sustain such trials! It is true some persons reply that the Chinese who come here are of no advantage to the country. Yet if a calculation be made only of the amount of licenses we pay, the value of our trade, the revenue to steamers, stage companies and other interests, amounting to several millions of dollars per annum, can it be affirmed that we are of no advantage? But, besides, it is to be considered that we Chinese are universally a law-abiding people and that our conduct is very different from the lawlessness and violence of some other foreigners. Were it not that each so little understands the other's tongue, and mutual kind sentiments are not communicated, would not more cordial intercourse probably exist?

4. The perpetual vexations of the Chinese.

The class that engage in digging gold are, as a whole, poor people. We go on board the ships. There we find ourselves unaccustomed to winds and waves and to the extremes of heat and cold. We eat little; we grieve much. Our appearance is plain and our clothing poor. At once, when we leave the vessel, boatmen extort heavy fares; all kinds of conveyances require from us more than the usual charges; as we go on our way we are pushed and kicked and struck by the drunken and the brutal; but as we cannot speak your language, we bear our injuries and pass on. Even when within doors, rude boys throw sand and bad men stones after us. Passers by, instead of preventing these provocations, add to them by their laughter. We go up to the mines; there the collectors of the licenses make unlawful exactions and robbers strip, plunder, wound and even murder some of us. Thus we are plunged into endless uncommiserated wrongs. But the first root of them all is that very degradation and contempt of the Chinese as a race of which we have spoken, which begins with your honorable nation, but which they communicate to people from other countries, who carry it to greater lengths.

Now what injury have we Chinese done to your honorable people that they should thus turn upon us and make us drink the cup of wrong even to its last poisonous dregs?

5. Fatal injuries unpunished.

Your Supreme Court has decided that the Chinese shall not bring action or give testimony against white men. Of how great wrongs is this the consummation! To the death of how many of us has it led! In cases that are brought before your officers of justice, inasmuch as we are unable to obtain your people as witnesses, even the murderer is immediately set free! Sanctioned by this, robbers of foreign nations commit the greatest excesses. It is a small thing with them to drive us away and seize our property. They proceed to do violence and kill us; they go on in a career of bloodshed without limit, since they find there are none to bear testimony against them. Let us mention some cases. In the third year of the present emperor, and seventh month, at B----, Yu Lin-shing, a Chinese, was shot and killed by an American. The murderer was apprehended and brought to the place of justice. He was released without condemnation. In the ninth month, at S----, Yu Waingok was murdered by a foreigner. In the same month, at B----, one of our countrymen was killed by an Indian. In the fourth year, second month, near M----, a man named Chiu Man-sze was shot with arrows, by Indians, and killed. In the sixth month, in L----, Liu Kiu was put to death by an American; the murderer was captured and put in prison; but, as usual, was released without trial. In the eleventh month, a Spaniard robbed and murdered one of our countrymen. In the fifth year, on the fourth day of the fifth month, a collector of the mining licenses killed Ching Ping, at P----. About the middle of the same month, at M----, the collectors of the licenses killed three men because they would not pay more than was justly due; their names were Wa Hon, A-Tang and A-Sui.

It would be impossible to enumerate the men that have been killed; we have mentioned these as a few of them. To collect a catalogue of crimes is certainly noy a work of pleasure. But behold the root of them all in the prejudice and hate of your honorable nation! In cases where it is possible to procure the testimony of your people as to an injury, the Chinese may obtain reparation; but suppose there are occasions where, if none of your people know of a crime, Chinese were allowed to take up the case and to state their acquaintance with it, some of these stains of blood would not continue unwashed. Some object that the Chinese bear false witness. Do such not know that the Chinese do not understand your language?--or that within your courts of justice, too, there are corrupt men?--or that in the strifes of public litigation there may be found men of every country who will bear false testimony? Why, then, is this burden laid upon us Chinese alone? Suppose there be false witness borne, are the judges of your honorable country blind and stupid, so that they cannot discern it and estimate testimony at its value? Because here and there a Chinese or two has proved a perjurer, shall it prejudice our entire nation? Shall this degrade us beneath the negro and the Indian? This is a great injustice, such as is not heard of in our Middle Kingdom! It injures your fair name. Every nation under heaven mocks at you. Hence it is not alone we Chinese that suffer, but blessings are lost thereby to your own land.

6. The persecution of the Chinese miners.

If a Chinese earns a dollar and a half in gold per day, his first desire is to go to an American and buy a mining claim. But should this yield a considerable result, the seller, it is possible, compels him to relinquish it. Perhaps robbers come and strip him of the gold. He dare not resist, since he cannot speak the language, and has not the power to withstand them. On the other hand, those who have no means to buy a claim seek some ground which other miners have dug over and left, and thus obtain a few dimes. From the proceeds of a hard day's toil, after the pay for food and clothes very little remains. It is hard for them to be prepared to meet the collector when he comes for the license money. If such a one turns his thoughts back to the time when he came here, perhaps he remembers that then he borrowed the money for his passage and expenses from his kindred and friends, or perhaps he sold all his property to obtain it; and how bitter those thoughts are! In the course of four years, out of each ten men that have come over scarcely more than one or two get back again. Among those who cannot do so, the purse is often empty; and the trials of many of them are worthy of deep compassion. Thus it is evident that the gold mines are truly of little advantage to the Chinese. Yet the legislature questions whether it shall not increase the license; that is, increase trouble upon trouble! It is pressing us to death. If it is your will that Chinese shall not dig the gold of your honorable country, then fix a limit as to time, say, for instance, three years, within which every man of them shall provide means to return to his own country. Thus we shall not perish in a foreign land. Thus mutual kindly sentiments shall be restored again.

7. The irregularities of the collectors of the license.

These occur wherever the Chinese are engaged in mining; and they are not the acts of one man. The collectors of the license have no appointed districts: one man comes at this time, and a stranger the next. They have no appointed period: some come for the month's dues to-day, and to-morrow they require them again. In collecting from the miners who have money they extort heavy amounts besides. To miners who have none they refuse to grant time, and then demand the sums which they owe from other persons. If these refuse to pay them, the collectors seize their purses and take their last grain of gold. Should the Chinese dispute with them, they assault there with pistols and other weapons, and some of the miners may lose their lives, and there is no redress. Hence, when it is reported that the collectors are coming, those who have no gold are forced to fly in terror; those who could pay are thus frightened and follow; then they are pursued and beaten, perhaps killed. Occurrences like these are common. They all arise from the rapacity of the collectors and from the want of just regulations. Now we ask, first, that, in the collection of the licenses, each district shall be allotted to a certain man; that the boundaries of it shall be clearly defined; that other collectors shall not be allowed to come within them; that the day of each month when the collector will receive the license-money shall be previously published by placards; that on the payment of the four dollars he shall give the miner a written receipt as evidence, to prevent his being compelled to pay the money again; and that in the cases of those who are unable to pay, firstly, some extension of time may be granted; if at the second demand they still have no means to pay, security may be required from their fellow-miners, with some further extension of time; at the third demand, if neither they nor their security are ready to pay, then their property may be seized for the amount. There are none of us who would not gladly submit to such regulations as these. They would be just to both parties. And your losses from the miners running away or hiding their money would cease.

8. Usages to which, we object.

Our people have been Told of the excellence of the institutions of your honorable country; but when they have come to the new State of California, they have found them to be strange indeed. We know not from what nation came the men that have taken the lead in creating this condition of things, nor where rests the obligation of reforming it, but you cannot be ignorant of some things the truth of which we have seen and known. Allow us briefly to speak of them. Causes at law are not judged according to what is true or false; the strongest faction is counted to have the truth. In contentions between men it is not considered what is crooked and what is straight; sufficient money makes a man's claim appear straight. The treatment of men is not regulated by their characters for virtue or for vice; a fine exterior is accepted for virtue. New laws are constantly published, only to be changed again in a brief time. Suits that should be determined are postponed again and again. A person of purity and integrity appears in court and he is but ridiculed and insulted the more; a violent and wicked man, and he is paid the more respect. Cases involving money come before these tribunals, and they excite covetousness; cases of property, and they create envy of a man's abundance. Murder is allowed to escape without the forfeit of life; robbery occurs without the apprehension of the offender. False rumors are made a pretext to arrest men; officers apprehend the innocent in order to oppress and fine them. They practice neither humanity nor justice. Their ambition and their schemes terminate simply in gold and silver. Justice demands that political institutions such as these should speedily be reformed, or you will meet with the scorn of the whole world.

9. A request for the adjustment of the difficulties in
regard to abandoned women.

At first all the abandoned women who came to California from Hong-kong were boat-women from the seacoast: one of them arrived here during the first year of Hien-fung (1851). At that time, we Chinese proper, fearing that other people would mistake these for our own females, and thus disgraceful conceptions of us be spread abroad, specially requested your authorities to banish them. But the local authorities, not comprehending the evil, would not consent to their removal. From that time the number of those coming has constantly increased, and the flood of poison has become more and more wide and deep. It is now our request that you will enact laws for the correction of this grievance. We beseech you to stringently require commanders of vessels, while they carry these women away, to bring no more of them back. And a time should be fixed within which all here shall be compelled to leave, themselves providing the means, and returning to their own people. Thus will we be rid of this spreading poison and be relieved of this disgrace.

10. A petition that gambling may be severely punished.

In our Middle Kingdom gambling is forbidden by law. Formerly, on account of its not being forbidden in your honorable country, many men learned this vice, and the results have been deeply injurious. Now we are fortunate in having a law against it passed by you and put into operation. If only men knew that they must rigidly obey it, and if from this time forth there shall be no secret granting of licenses, then we might hope that those who had learned this vice might return to honest occupations.

11. A request in regard to the management of criminal cases.

At present, people from all nations are coming indiscriminately to your honorable country. Certainly many of them are good; but there are also bad persons among them. It constantly happens that the good are compelled to reap some of the fruits of the evil deeds of the vicious. Among our Chinese there are some bad people; and only the Chinese can know who they are. If you will permit the Chinese merchants, they will prepare private statements as to such persons, vouching for them by the signature of their names. Thus rogues may be justly punished, and will understand that the laws are to be respected, and will be deterred from the commission of crimes; and they will return to the ways of virtue.

12. A request for an enactment appointing a time when
the Chinese shall finally return to their own land.

When we were first favored with the invitations of your ship-captains to emigrate to California, and heard the laudations which they published of the perfect and admirable character of your institutions, and were told of your exceeding respect and love toward the Chinese, we could hardly have calculated that we would now be the objects of your excessive hatred--that your courts would refuse us the right of testimony; your legislature load us with increasing taxes and devise means how to wholly expel us; your collectors, even before the law is made, begin to demand larger sums, and to compel the month's payment for shorter periods than that time; that foreign villains, witnessing your degrading treatment of us, would assume the right to harass, plunder and rob us, possibly kill us; that injuries of every hind would be inflicted on us, and unceasing wrongs be perpetrated; that if we would desire to go, we would be unable to do so, and if we desired to remain, we could not. But now if, finally, you do not will that we should mine and traffic in your honorable country, we beg that you will fix by law a limit of three years, within which we may collect our property and return to our country; and that you will strictly forbid your ship-captains to use inducements for people to come, and, if they do not obey, severely punish them. Thus we will endeavor after the lapse of three years to leave upon your honorable soil not a trace of the Chinese population. If, on the other hand, you grant us as formerly to mine and trade here, then it is our request that you will give instructions to your courts that they shall again receive Chinese testimony; that they shall cease their incessant discussions about expelling the Chinese; that they shall quit their frequent agitations as to raising the license fees; that they shall allow the Chinese peace in the pursuit of their proper employments; and that they shall effectually repress the acts of violence common among the mountains, so that robbers shall not upon one pretext or another injure and plunder us. Thus shall your distinguished favor revive us like a continual dew.

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