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Chapter 24: a celestial village.

Like Paddy Blake and Juan Chico, Hop Lee and Hong Chi appear to be social animals, who love to jostle in a crowd, and lodge by preference in a narrow court. Like many of their Irish and Mexican peers, they seem to delight in close alleys, and enjoy abominable smells. When they might camp out in the open, they burrow in the earth, under the houses of great cities, hiding their heads in drains and vaults, in sinks and sewers. They make a rookery in the heart of every city they invade. At Salt Lake they huddle round the marketplace; at Virginia they cower about the mines. In San Francisco they have taken up their rest in the oldest quarter. When they reach New York they will settle on Five Points; when they arrive in London they will occupy Seven Dials. If a great city has a low and filthy section, the celestials sniff [251] it out, crowd into it, and by their presence make that low and filthy place their own. It seems to them a natural process. When they get to Rome, they will drive the Jews out of their Ghetto; when they come to Naples, they will expel the lazzaroni from their Marinella; just as they have driven the low Irish and the lower Mexicans from their old haunts in San Francisco. How these lovers of dirt would revel in the port-side of Alexandria, in the sacred precincts of Nablous, in the leper-quarter of Jerusalem! Yet, in their native land, there is a vast river population ; people who live in dhows and junks, feeding on fish, and seldom going into towns. In the Five Provinces these water-people are counted by millions. Are there no water-people yet on the Pacific Slope?

At Monterey we hear of a group of Chinese squatters, who have come from San Francisco, and settled as fishermen on the bluff near Pinos Point. Scorning to boil shirts, roast mutton, and make roads, like their meeker comrades, these squatters near Pinos Point neither wash nor starch, neither cook nor serve, neither dig nor delve. They are said to be free men, owing no money, and therefore no duty, to [252] the Five Companies. Left to their own choice, they show no preference for city life, and give up garbage, reek, and squalor for a lodging on the hill-side, in the midst of wild sage, with the ocean breezes on their roofs. They are not alone. With them are many women and children. Living on the coast, away from white capital and white employment, they are said to make a homely livelihood for their wives and families by catching and drying fish.

A colony of Asiatics, who seek neither work nor favour from the white capitalist, but go out boldly into nature, taking their chances in the primary and heroic, rather than the secondary and parasitical, struggle for existence, raises our curiosity. Unlike the Mexican labourers, whom they are driving out of California and Nevada, here are people who can live without the Whites!

A trail leads off from Monterey to this Asiatic village, going by way of Fray Junipero's Cross and Don Rivera's Castle; but this trail is a mere Indian line, not made for horses, still less for wheels. We have to trudge on foot. A walk of two miles from the old Mexican jetty brings us to a pile of rocks, on turning which we are in China-close to [253] a huddle of log-sheds and drying-poles — the place snarling with dogs, and reeking with the smell of dead fish and the fumes of joss-wood.

The first comers seem to have squatted anywhere and anyhow, just as the levels tempted them, and the logs for building purposes lay handy near the beach. To get into the labyrinth is easy. You follow the smell of joss-wood, kick away the dogs, and fall over the naked urchins. But to find your way about is like trying to undo a Chinese puzzle. English ingenuity is unequal to the task. Here, in your front, is a pig-sty, with the customary mess. This wicker-frame is the hen-roost, flanked by a puddle for the ducks and geese. What filth! About a hundred ricketty sheds and kennels-houses, stores, and attics-compose this free and independent settlement. These sheds and kennels are so frail in build, that some of them come down in every puff of wind and every shower of rain. A gale might sweep the whole colony into the bay. Happily for the settlers this coast is a Pacific coast, where storms are almost as rare as in the Ladies' Sea.

Four or five hundred Asiatics dwell in this corner of America, winning from the sea and [254] shore a scanty supply of food. They take in shoals of smelts, and pick up thousands of shell-fish. Whaling is too hard a business, but they sometimes get a haul of cod. They are fond of cuttlefish. In summer-time, as Ah Tim, one of the settlers, tells me, they live very well. The wood supplies them in fuel, the bay never fails them in fish. The little clearings near their tenements yield them peppers, cabbages, and herbs. By drying a part of their summer hauls they provide for the winter, when the waters are too rough for them to brave. The sale of some part of their dry stock gives them money enough to buy a little tea, joss-wood, and opium. For the rest a Chinaman can dream. “ Mee goot, opium pipe,” says Ah Tim; “ me smoke, me dine all-ee-same Melican mans.” A pinch of opium makes Ah Tim a king.

Ah Tim takes us into several tenements. The sheds are pretty much alike; all neat and tiny; more like dolls' houses than the residences of human beings. Most of them have scraps of red paper pasted on the walls, announcements of lotteries, of performances in the theatres, and of services in the great joss-house of San Francisco. Every Mongol [255] in America regards San Francisco as his capital and the great joss-house in that city as his temple. Tim, like most of his countrymen, is pious. No joss-house has been raised in the village near Pinos Point, for the fishermen cannot afford the luxury of a priest; but in every shanty on the bluff, we find an image of Buddha on the mantelpiece, just as in every Basque hovel we see a cross, and in every Russ cabin an icon of the Virgin. Poor though he be, each Mongol keeps a small cup of tea simmering and a few spikes of cedar-wood burning in front of his joss. “Man better go, alleesame,” says Ah Tim, “without his rice and opium, than leavee joss without his tea and cedar-wood, all-ee-same, no.”

In one tenement five or six men are sitting down to dinner — a mess of cabbage boiled in tallow, flanked by a little fried shell-fish-each moon-face with his chop-sticks in his hand. Before sitting down they look to the joss, and see that his tea is warm. On rising from their meal they light a few cedar matches and leave them to burn out; but they do these acts of worship without delicacy and reverence, showing nothing of that awe which [256] softens and subdues a Moscovite's face as he crosses himself after meals and cries to his icon in the corner, “ Slava Bogu!”

Poor fellows, they have not eaten much! No Celtic labourer, no Mexican peasant, could exist on such food as these poor Asiatics eat. Can the African? When two races dwell on the same soil, the race which eats the least must drive the other race off. The lean kine ate up the fat kine, the thin ears of corn ate up the good ears. Watching these fellows pick up their morsels with chop-sticks, I remember a saying of Clarke, the Negro teacher in Cincinnati, that his people, though able to compete with the Celts, are not able to compete with the Chinese. “ Let us have no Chinese,” urged Clarke, in answer to my enquiry how far the advent of a few thousand Chinese labourers would affect the interests of his people in Ohio, “let us have no Chinese. They work for cents where we want dollars. They live on scraps and filth. A Negro lives on the fat of the land, and needs as much food as any other American. John and Sam will never be able to live in peace. John works hard on rice and tea, and not much of either; while Sam [257] wants roast turkey and cocktail, and a good supply of each.” Under a system of equal laws, the Negro would be unable to keep a footing in the labour market of America, in presence of his thrifty, docile, and intelligent brother of the Yellow race.

Ah Tim invites us to his shanty, where his wife makes tea, and his two little boys roll and wallow in the mud. Tim is a curious fellow; cold, prosaic, worldly; with the hard and callous brain which American poets have not ascribed unjustly to the “ Heathen Chinee.” Unlike his countrymen as a rule, Tim is a man of politics. He owes no money to tihe companies. He has no reason to fear their spies and head-men. He is a native of the soil, and has no wish to see Canton. He wants his rights; he wants to have a vote; he wants his neighbours to have votes. Tim was the first Chinee born in California. As a native, he has the right of standing for any office. If he had his dues, according to the American Constitution, he might stand against General Grant for the Presidency. But the White people in California set the Constitution at defiance, as Ah Tim believes, by pretending that the legal maxim, “every man born [258] on the American soil is an American citizen,” only means that every White man born on the American “ soil is an American citizen.”

“Are you making a formal claim of citizenship?”

“Yes, sir. I born in Melica Land; I marry in Melica Land; I live in Melica Land; my children born in Melica Land. Is not that all-ee-same?”

When the American Constitution was drawn up, the noble assertion that “all men are born free and equal” was confined to the White race. A Black man was not free. A Red man was not an equal. But a great development has been given to this assertion by events. A Negro born on the soil enjoys the rights of a free citizen. Why not a Mongol? Is the African race nobler than the Asiatic? If Zete Fly is considered worthy of the franchise, how can such a privilege be refused to Ah Tim?

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