home | many pasts | evidence | www.history | blackboard | reference
talking history | syllabi | students | teachers | puzzle | about us
search: go!
advanced search - go!

“We Chinese Are Viewed Like Thieves and Enemies”: Pun Chi Appeals to Congress to Protect the Rights of Chinese, ca. 1860

Nineteenth-century officials and businessmen eager for cheap labor for California’s manufacturing, mining, and agricultural industries encouraged Chinese migrants to voyage to the United States. In the 1850s, however, as the Chinese population grew, an anti-Chinese movement mounted. The California legislature and courts restricted the rights of Chinese immigrants with the Foreign Miners Tax of 1852 and a California Supreme Court decision—People v. Hall (1854) —that excluded Chinese testimony from the courts, further sanctioning violence against Chinese residents. Pun Chi, a young Chinese merchant, wrote this appeal to Congress, sometime between 1856 and 1868, seeking help against growing anti-Chinese sentiments in the West. Reminding Congress that Chinese migration had been encouraged and that migrants deserved legal protection once in the United States, he gave graphic accounts of the mining tax collectors' abuses and the murder of Chinese miners. William Speer, a Presbyterian minister and missionary in San Francisco’s Chinatown, translated Pun Chi’s appeal from Chinese and published it in 1870.

Pun Chi:

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….

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….

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….

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.

Source: William Speer, The Oldest and the Newest Empire: China and the United States (Cincinnati: National Publishing Co., 1870), 588–601.