Chinese Chicago: Race, Transnational Migration and Community Since 1870 (book review)

Posted in Down in Chinatown at 12:58 pm by Benjamin Ross

Chinese Chicago:  Race, Transnational Migration and Community Since 1870 by Huping Ling, Stanford University Press, 2012.

With the USA’s largest Chinese population between the coasts and the exhaustive body of area neighborhood studies undertaken by sociologists, historians, and geographers, it’s surprising that Chicago’s Chinatown has eluded the radar of academics for so long.  Huping Ling’s new book addresses this void with the first comprehensive history of Chicago’s Chinese community.

With the backdrop of the Chicago School of Sociology from the 1920’s and the current literature on “transnational” migration, Ling traces the history of Chicago’s Chinese community back to the three Moy brothers in Duanfen, Taishan, Guangdong, who arrived in the Windy City in the 1870’s.  She follows the community from its humble beginnings on South Clark Street in the Loop, through its relocation to the present site on the Near South Side, also highlighting the Vietnamese Chinatown on the North Side and the Chinese diaspora throughout the Chicagoland suburbs.  With thorough examination of trade organizations, politics, business, schools, and religious institutions, Ling provides a comprehensive view of the Chicago Chinese community, and its inter-relationships with both the city of Chicago and the sending villages back in China.

Some interesting tidbits that Ling brings to light include a de-emphasis on organized crime and tongs.  While powerful tongs with occasional violence did exist in Chicago, Ling argues that the Chicago tongs were primarily trade associations, with the function of protecting and supporting Chinese-run businesses.  And she concludes with the observation that relaxed migration regulations on both sides of the Pacific have caused a “hollow center” whereby entire Chinese villages have been depopulated due to migration to North America.  Their vacancies are often filled by migrants from inland provinces, whom Ling suggests may provide the next generation of transnational migrants.

Chinese Chicago is an accessible yet authoritative journey through a topic which has received scant coverage in both the academic and popular presses.  Through Ling’s comprehensive analysis of historical documents, photographs, natural histories, and family lineages, Chinese Chicago provides a fascinating journey through Chinese transnational life in the American Midwest.

1 Comment »

  1. Matt United Kingdom said,

    August 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Sounds interesting. There has no been a lot of litrature that has been written on the early origins of Chinese-American’s, should be an interesting read. I will have a look for it on Amazon.

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