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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LIV

Roughing It

Chapter LIV

Of course there was a large Chinese population in Virginia--it is the
case with every town and city on the Pacific coast. They are a harmless
race when white men either let them alone or treat them no worse than
dogs; in fact they are almost entirely harmless anyhow, for they seldom
think of resenting the vilest insults or the cruelest injuries. They are
quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkenness, and they are as
industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a
lazy one does not exist. So long as a Chinaman has strength to use his
hands he needs no support from anybody; white men often complain of want
of work, but a Chinaman offers no such complaint; he always manages to
find something to do. He is a great convenience to everybody--even to
the worst class of white men, for he bears the most of their sins,
suffering fines for their petty thefts, imprisonment for their robberies,
and death for their murders. Any white man can swear a Chinaman's life
away in the courts, but no Chinaman can testify against a white man.
Ours is the "land of the free"--nobody denies that--nobody challenges it.
[Maybe it is because we won't let other people testify.] As I write, news
comes that in broad daylight in San Francisco, some boys have stoned an
inoffensive Chinaman to death, and that although a large crowd witnessed
the shameful deed, no one interfered.

There are seventy thousand (and possibly one hundred thousand) Chinamen
on the Pacific coast. There were about a thousand in Virginia. They
were penned into a "Chinese quarter"--a thing which they do not
particularly object to, as they are fond of herding together. Their
buildings were of wood; usually only one story high, and set thickly
together along streets scarcely wide enough for a wagon to pass through.
Their quarter was a little removed from the rest of the town. The chief
employment of Chinamen in towns is to wash clothing. They always send a
bill, like this below, pinned to the clothes. It is mere ceremony, for
it does not enlighten the customer much. Their price for washing was
$2.50 per dozen--rather cheaper than white people could afford to wash
for at that time. A very common sign on the Chinese houses was: "See
Yup, Washer and Ironer"; "Hong Wo, Washer"; "Sam Sing & Ah Hop, Washing."
The house servants, cooks, etc., in California and Nevada, were chiefly
Chinamen. There were few white servants and no Chinawomen so employed.
Chinamen make good house servants, being quick, obedient, patient, quick
to learn and tirelessly industrious. They do not need to be taught a
thing twice, as a general thing. They are imitative. If a Chinaman were
to see his master break up a centre table, in a passion, and kindle a
fire with it, that Chinaman would be likely to resort to the furniture
for fuel forever afterward.

All Chinamen can read, write and cipher with easy facility--pity but all
our petted voters could. In California they rent little patches of
ground and do a deal of gardening. They will raise surprising crops of
vegetables on a sand pile. They waste nothing. What is rubbish to a
Christian, a Chinaman carefully preserves and makes useful in one way or
another. He gathers up all the old oyster and sardine cans that white
people throw away, and procures marketable tin and solder from them by
melting. He gathers up old bones and turns them into manure.
In California he gets a living out of old mining claims that white men
have abandoned as exhausted and worthless--and then the officers come
down on him once a month with an exorbitant swindle to which the
legislature has given the broad, general name of "foreign" mining tax,
but it is usually inflicted on no foreigners but Chinamen. This swindle
has in some cases been repeated once or twice on the same victim in the
course of the same month--but the public treasury was no additionally
enriched by it, probably.

Chinamen hold their dead in great reverence--they worship their departed
ancestors, in fact. Hence, in China, a man's front yard, back yard, or
any other part of his premises, is made his family burying ground, in
order that he may visit the graves at any and all times. Therefore that
huge empire is one mighty cemetery; it is ridged and wringled from its
centre to its circumference with graves--and inasmuch as every foot of
ground must be made to do its utmost, in China, lest the swarming
population suffer for food, the very graves are cultivated and yield a
harvest, custom holding this to be no dishonor to the dead. Since the
departed are held in such worshipful reverence, a Chinaman cannot bear
that any indignity be offered the places where they sleep.
Mr. Burlingame said that herein lay China's bitter opposition to
railroads; a road could not be built anywhere in the empire without
disturbing the graves of their ancestors or friends.

A Chinaman hardly believes he could enjoy the hereafter except his body
lay in his beloved China; also, he desires to receive, himself, after
death, that worship with which he has honored his dead that preceded him.
Therefore, if he visits a foreign country, he makes arrangements to have
his bones returned to China in case he dies; if he hires to go to a
foreign country on a labor contract, there is always a stipulation that
his body shall be taken back to China if he dies; if the government sells
a gang of Coolies to a foreigner for the usual five-year term, it is
specified in the contract that their bodies shall be restored to China in
case of death. On the Pacific coast the Chinamen all belong to one or
another of several great companies or organizations, and these companies
keep track of their members, register their names, and ship their bodies
home when they die. The See Yup Company is held to be the largest of
these. The Ning Yeong Company is next, and numbers eighteen thousand
members on the coast. Its headquarters are at San Francisco, where it
has a costly temple, several great officers (one of whom keeps regal
state in seclusion and cannot be approached by common humanity), and a
numerous priesthood. In it I was shown a register of its members, with
the dead and the date of their shipment to China duly marked. Every ship
that sails from San Francisco carries away a heavy freight of Chinese
corpses--or did, at least, until the legislature, with an ingenious
refinement of Christian cruelty, forbade the shipments, as a neat
underhanded way of deterring Chinese immigration. The bill was offered,
whether it passed or not. It is my impression that it passed. There was
another bill--it became a law--compelling every incoming Chinaman to be
vaccinated on the wharf and pay a duly appointed quack (no decent doctor
would defile himself with such legalized robbery) ten dollars for it.
As few importers of Chinese would want to go to an expense like that, the
law-makers thought this would be another heavy blow to Chinese

What the Chinese quarter of Virginia was like--or, indeed, what the
Chinese quarter of any Pacific coast town was and is like--may be
gathered from this item which I printed in the Enterprise while reporting
for that paper:

     CHINATOWN.--Accompanied by a fellow reporter, we made a trip through
     our Chinese quarter the other night. The Chinese have built their
     portion of the city to suit themselves; and as they keep neither
     carriages nor wagons, their streets are not wide enough, as a
     general thing, to admit of the passage of vehicles. At ten o'clock
     at night the Chinaman may be seen in all his glory. In every little
     cooped-up, dingy cavern of a hut, faint with the odor of burning
     Josh-lights and with nothing to see the gloom by save the sickly,
     guttering tallow candle, were two or three yellow, long-tailed
     vagabonds, coiled up on a sort of short truckle-bed, smoking opium,
     motionless and with their lustreless eyes turned inward from excess
     of satisfaction--or rather the recent smoker looks thus, immediately
     after having passed the pipe to his neighbor--for opium-smoking is a
     comfortless operation, and requires constant attention. A lamp sits
     on the bed, the length of the long pipe-stem from the smoker's
     mouth; he puts a pellet of opium on the end of a wire, sets it on
     fire, and plasters it into the pipe much as a Christian would fill a
     hole with putty; then he applies the bowl to the lamp and proceeds
     to smoke--and the stewing and frying of the drug and the gurgling of
     the juices in the stem would well-nigh turn the stomach of a statue.
     John likes it, though; it soothes him, he takes about two dozen
     whiffs, and then rolls over to dream, Heaven only knows what, for we
     could not imagine by looking at the soggy creature. Possibly in his
     visions he travels far away from the gross world and his regular
     washing, and feast on succulent rats and birds'-nests in Paradise.

Mr. Ah Sing keeps a general grocery and provision store at No. 13 Wang
street. He lavished his hospitality upon our party in the friendliest
way. He had various kinds of colored and colorless wines and brandies,
with unpronouncable names, imported from China in little crockery jugs,
and which he offered to us in dainty little miniature wash-basins of
porcelain. He offered us a mess of birds'-nests; also, small, neat
sausages, of which we could have swallowed several yards if we had chosen
to try, but we suspected that each link contained the corpse of a mouse,
and therefore refrained. Mr. Sing had in his store a thousand articles
of merchandise, curious to behold, impossible to imagine the uses of, and
beyond our ability to describe.

His ducks, however, and his eggs, we could understand; the former were
split open and flattened out like codfish, and came from China in that
shape, and the latter were plastered over with some kind of paste which
kept them fresh and palatable through the long voyage.

We found Mr. Hong Wo, No. 37 Chow-chow street, making up a lottery
scheme--in fact we found a dozen others occupied in the same way in
various parts of the quarter, for about every third Chinaman runs a
lottery, and the balance of the tribe "buck" at it. "Tom," who speaks
faultless English, and used to be chief and only cook to the Territorial
Enterprise, when the establishment kept bachelor's hall two years ago,
said that "Sometime Chinaman buy ticket one dollar hap, ketch um two tree
hundred, sometime no ketch um anything; lottery like one man fight um
seventy--may-be he whip, may-be he get whip heself, welly good."

However, the percentage being sixty-nine against him, the chances are,
as a general thing, that "he get whip heself." We could not see that
these lotteries differed in any respect from our own, save that the
figures being Chinese, no ignorant white man might ever hope to succeed
in telling "t'other from which;" the manner of drawing is similar to

Mr. See Yup keeps a fancy store on Live Fox street. He sold us fans of
white feathers, gorgeously ornamented; perfumery that smelled like
Limburger cheese, Chinese pens, and watch-charms made of a stone
unscratchable with steel instruments, yet polished and tinted like the
inner coat of a sea-shell. As tokens of his esteem, See Yup presented
the party with gaudy plumes made of gold tinsel and trimmed with
peacocks' feathers.

We ate chow-chow with chop-sticks in the celestial restaurants; our
comrade chided the moon-eyed damsels in front of the houses for their
want of feminine reserve; we received protecting Josh-lights from our
hosts and "dickered" for a pagan God or two. Finally, we were impressed
with the genius of a Chinese book-keeper; he figured up his accounts on a
machine like a gridiron with buttons strung on its bars; the different
rows represented units, tens, hundreds and thousands. He fingered them
with incredible rapidity--in fact, he pushed them from place to place as
fast as a musical professor's fingers travel over the keys of a piano.

They are a kindly disposed, well-meaning race, and are respected and well
treated by the upper classes, all over the Pacific coast. No Californian
gentleman or lady ever abuses or oppresses a Chinaman, under any
circumstances, an explanation that seems to be much needed in the East.
Only the scum of the population do it--they and their children; they,
and, naturally and consistently, the policemen and politicians, likewise,
for these are the dust-licking pimps and slaves of the scum, there as
well as elsewhere in America.

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Index Index

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXIX

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