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March 16, 1862: San Francisco

March 16, 2012

Shopping in Color

Shop in Chinatown; by Generik11, on Flickr

We have had more heavy rains since I last wrote, and when we can get out again, if we get out at all, I don’t know. It is time for the rains to cease, but they don’t….

As you all know there is a great Chinese immigration to this state. But they come not as other immigrants, to settle; they come as other Californians come, to make money and return. Every Chinaman expects to return, and even if he dies here, his body is returned for burial in the “Celestial” land. Dead Chinamen form an important item of freight on every ship leaving this port for China. It is estimated that there are at least fifty thousand Chinese in the state, and many authorities rate the number still higher; this would make about one-sixteenth to one-eighteenth of the whole population. They all land here, and from three to five thousand live in this city. Whole streets are devoted to them. But most of them are at work over the country—most of the placer mining in the state is in their hands. They come here a “peculiar people,” and stay so: they very seldom learn the language, and they adopt none of the customs of the country. They come with all the faults and vices of a heathen people, and these are retained here.

Li Po 02

Li Po, in Chinatown; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

I wish you could walk with me through the Chinese part of the city. All the trades and professions go on as at home; they have their aristocracy and their masses, their big men and their poor ones, their fine stores and their poor groceries, but all is in true Chinese style. Although the houses are American, they are fitted up Chinese and furnished Chinese. Signs hang out in Chinese, and the cragged Chinese characters are written on everything. In the better class of shop they have also an English sign. These are some I copied: Sam Loe, Ning Lung Co., Wau Kee, Wing Yung, Yang Wo Poo, Tsun Kee, Kip Sing, Hee Sun, Wau Hup, Hang Kip & Co., Hong Yun, Chung Shung & Co., Hing Soong & Co., Lun Wo, Tong Yue, Tin Hop. In this evening’s paper I read that a murder was committed this morning in the city—Ah Choe killed Ah On. There is, at times, a Chinese theater, and there has been, and may possibly be yet, a temple for their worship.

They keep up their old customs and dress here, as well as their language. Men wear their long hair braided into a “tail,” which is either done up around the head or hangs down to the heels behind. These are held in the greatest veneration; a man losing his “tail” falls into disgrace upon returning to his own country, and it is made a crime now under the laws of this state for anyone to cut off a Chinaman’s “tail.”

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