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Chapter 26: Yellow Agony.

“at length!” exclaims a Senator in Sacramento, laying down his copy of the President's new Message to Congress, in which there is a short paragraph devoted to the Chinese immigration. “Our master in the White House has spared one moment from the contemplation of his Black Agony on the Gulf to a consideration of our Yellow Agony on the Slope! ”

No one will say that President Grant has spoken either too soon or in too loud a voice. Opinion runs the other way. In Washington men may talk; in Sacramento they must act. The Mongol invaders have put republican principles to a strain which they were never meant to bear, and under this burthen, republican principles and institutions have broken down.

Face to face with a gigantic evil, the Californians have passed a dozen laws in self-defence; and these [271] defensive laws of California violate the most sacred principles embodied in the common Constitution of the United States!

The American Constitution opens American ports to all the world; the laws of California limit and control the entry of Asiatics into San Francisco. The American Constitution gives to every man who lands a right of citizenship on easy terms; the laws of California deny a Chinese immigrant the right of citizenship on any terms.

Under the new conditions created by the influx of these Asiatics, San Francisco has ceased to be a free port in the sense in which New York is a free port. New York is open: San Francisco is not open. If he lands in New York a Mongol may be naturalized in a year; but if he lands in San Francisco a Mongol cannot be naturalized in twenty years. This conflict of principles leads to much confusion in practice. No one in Oregon, California, and Nevada, can be sure of what is legal or illegal. A Court, administering the local law, rules one thing; a second Court, administering the general law, rules another thing. They clash alike in maxims, methods, and results. [272]

A case occurred some weeks ago. In the belief that a certain vessel coming from Hong-Kong was laden with paupers, convicts, and rebels, transported from the country by sagacious mandarins, the authorities of San Francisco tried to send these undesirable settlers back to China. Taking the mail steamer in charge, they prevented either man or woman from landing, and required the company to carry their cargo back to Hong-Kong. The company refused. The San Francisco courts affirmed the right of the mayor and sheriffs to reject this cargo: but they were overruled by the Circuit Courts, acting in the name, interpreting the principles, of the United States.

Nearly every woman who obtains a licence to leave Hong-Kong comes over as a slave, the property of masters, who sell her in the city very much as a planter used to sell his quadroon in New Orleans. A case is now before the courts which proves so much, if not a great deal more.

Ah Lee, a man of good repute and decent means, lived with Low Yow, a woman who was erroneously supposed to be his wife. They had some words and parted company, on which Ah Lee [273] requested Low Yow to pay him back a sum of more than four hundred dollars, which he had placed in her hands while they were passing as man and wife. Low Yow refused.

“ I will be even with you,” hissed Ah Lee, with menacing gesture towards the woman.

Going before a magistrate, Ah Lee deposed that the Chinese woman, called Low Yow, had sold a Chinese girl, named Choy Ming, only thirteen years of age, for two hundred dollars, and he implored the magistrate to have that female slave-dealer seized and sent to jail. A witness, called Ah Sing, who said he was a brother of Choy Ming, sustained the evidence given and sworn by Ah Lee. On these statements, warrants were issued, and not only Low Yow but Choy Ming were taken into charge. Counsel was engaged for Choy Ming, but the trial mainly turned on her own evidence. She was a slave, she said. She was brought from China to San Francisco as a slave, and there sold to Low Yow, who afterwards sold her again to the keeper of a bad house. She handed to the judge a bill of sale, which had been given to her, according to the custom of her country, by Low Yow. [274]

The counsel for Low Yow denounced the whole proceeding as a conspiracy on the part of Ah Lee and Ah Sing to get his client into trouble. Two elderly Chinese, living in Stout's Alley, swore that Choy Ming was their child. She had been lured, they said, from their lodgings, and had been kept away from them some time. They had never sold her to Low Yow, and Low Yow could not have sold her to anyone else. Several Chinese witnesses gave evidence of having seen Choy Ming with the two old people, both when they were landing from the ship and afterwards in going about the streets.

Choy Ming was recalled. Asked by the judge to look in the witness box, and say whether the man and woman were not her parents, she declared they were not. She had never seen them in her life. In saying they were her parents, the old man and woman were forsworn. Ah Sing, her brother, would confirm her story. Ah Sing was called. Was Choy Ming his sister? Yes, Choy Ming, he answered, was his sister. Were the old man and woman his parents? By the bones of his ancestors-no! Re had never seen those old people before, and he was certain they were not the parents of Choy Ming. [275]

Unable to believe a word of the evidence on either side, the magistrate dismissed the case.

Choy Ming went home with Ah Sing and Ah Lee, and nothing more was heard about her till yesterday, when she appeared in Stout's Alley and claimed a refuge with the old couple as their child. On being asked about her evidence in the court, she says she went home with Ah Lee, and stayed with him some time, because Ah Sing frightened her by his threats. She has been living on a ranch in the country, but has now left the two men. Ah Sing, she says, is not her brother, and she likes the old folks better than the two men. Ah Lee and Ah Sing both ill-use her, and she is tired of being their wife.

Choy Ming, I learn, is scarcely thirteen years of age!

Another case is that of a disputed cargo of female slaves — a case still pending in the higher Courts.

About the Chinese women who are brought to San Francisco there is unhappily no more mystery than about the Circassian girls who used to be exposed for sale in the markets of Cairo and Damascus. They are slaves. On coming to San Francisco with [276] their owners, they pay no landing-fee to the Sixth Company; for these women, having no place in the Chinese system of family worship, require no sending back to China after death. Like beasts that perish, these female slaves are hidden out of sight.

The stories of these girls are often very sad. Some of them are sold by their fathers, for the poorer class of Mongol peasants always sell their girls, just as the Indian savages always sell their squaws. Many are stolen children, trapped and carried off by scoundrels who beset the hamlets near the coast. In every Chinese port there is a market for such wares. At Hong Kong they have to be passed by an official, but this official is too often satisfied with a form. One dealer passes three or four girls as his daughters; --a second dealer tries to bring out five or six as his wives. A-consul scrupulous on the score of polygamy, may refuse to pass so large a household; but the rascal has only to go to one of the lodging-houses, where emigrants are waiting, and bestow a wife on each moon-face — for the voyage. Under these arrangements the girls arrive in San Francisco, and are here sold, like Choy Ming, to anyone who happens to want a female slave. [277]

Eager to meet a practical evil by practical remedies, the Californians have passed a law empowering the port authorities to inspect all vessels coming in from Asia, and when they find a cargo of females on board suspected of being slaves, and obviously brought over for immoral purposes, to require the company to carry them back.

A cargo soon arrived, for many merchants are engaged in this abominable trade. “You cannot land these women,” said the port officials. “We shall see,” replied the merchants, who had bought the girls on speculation and were anxious for a profit on their wares. They went to law. The first Court at San Francisco justified the authorities, on which the merchants carried an appeal to Chief-Justice Wallace, in the Supreme Court at Sacramento, who sustained the verdict of the local Court. Foiled in their design, they went into the Circuit Court of the United States, pleading that the laws of California are in open conflict with the American Constitution, and are therefore void in San Francisco, part of the territory of the United States. The Judges of the Circuit Court adopted this view.

Fretted by this verdict in the Circuit Court, the [278] people of California are carrying an appeal to the Supreme Court in Washington; but while Chief-Justice Waite and his venerable brethren are straining over points of law the female slaves are coming in, and a free American State is not at liberty to protect her streets against this moral leprosy. What have the Californians done that they are hindered from shutting their gates on these importers of female slaves?

The Judges say the soil is free. A female slave becomes a free woman the moment she sets her foot on Californian ground. But who is to tell such a creature as a Chinese slave that she is free? Who is to explain to her poor intelligence what is meant by free soil? A slave in her own country, she has never heard of women of her class being free. In San Francisco she is neither more nor less a slave than she was in Canton or in Pekin. And yet no power can hinder the slave-dealers from pouring their abominable cargoes through the Golden Gate!

“Just listen to this drivel,” pleads the Senator; “the President treats this Asiatic Question as though it were a question of the minor morals!”

Here are the President's words: “I call the [279] attention of Congress to the generally-conceded fact that the great proportion of Chinese immigrants who come to our shores do not come ostensibly to make their homes with us and their labour productive of general prosperity, but they come under a contract with head-men, who own them almost absolutely. In a worse form does this apply to Chinese women. Hardly a perceptible percentage of them perform honourable labour; they are brought for shameful purposes, to the disgrace of the community where settled, and to the great demoralization of the youth of those localities. If this evil practice can be legislated against, it will be my pleasure as well as duty to enforce any regulation to ensure so desirable an end.”

In Californian eyes, such words seem poor and weak. “ If you compare this Message with the actual facts, what can you call such words but drivel?” the Senator proceeds: “Here, in Sacramento, we have no illusion on the subject of this coming in of Asiatic scum. The mandarins are emptying all their cesspools on our coast. You doubt! I tell you China is an overcrowded country, where people [280] swarm beyond the means of life. They fill the land with crimes. Millions are paupers, millions more are slaves. In California the mandarins have found a penal colony, to which, through our cupidity and folly, they are now transporting their vagabonds, criminals, and harlots. They are mighty smart, those mandarins, for they not only rid themselves of social filth, but make these outcasts bear the cost of their removal from the interior to Hong Kong. With all your cleverness, you English have not yet been able to persuade an Australian colony to receive your malefactors. We, too, are clever fellows; but we Californians have found no means of emptying San Quentin and the Mexican quarter of San Francisco into the suburbs of Pekin. These heathens beat us from the field. What is the President's remedy for these enormous evils? The Chinese come under head-men, who own them almost absolutely; the women come as slaves, for shameful practices. If these evils can be legislated against, he will try to help us to administer the law!”

“Your President is busy in the South.”

“ The South! I tell you, Sir, that Negro trouble in the South will pale ere long before this Mongol [281] trouble in the West. In all our battles for the soil this contest is the hardest and most dangerous. In New Orleans you see the best and worst of African Sam. He stands in front of you; so many rank and file; behind him no reserves. But Asiatic John is a mystery. You cannot count him, in and out, or march about him, back and front. He comes across the sea in thousands; nay, in tens of thousands; yet these thousands and tens of thousands are but heralds of the mighty host. Millions may come where thousands came, and tens of millions whence the tens of thousands came.”

Is it mere frenzy to imagine such a swarm of Asiatics arriving at the Golden Gate? In former days America was fed from Asia? Why not be fed again? The men are on the other side. The sea lies open to their ships. The transport pays.

“We are little more than thirty millions of White people,” adds the Senator; “they are upwards of three-hundred-and-sixty millions of Yellow people. So, to spare us fifty millions would be nothing to them, while the gift would be death to us.”

The Senator is right. A drain of fifty millions from the Five Provinces would leave those provinces [282] as densely crowded as Ireland was before the famine. It would pay the Government of Pekin to hire ships and send these fifty millions out. Spread about the United States, as labourers for wages always spread themselves about, fifty millions of Mongols would yield a safe majority in every ballot-box from Oregon to the Gulf of Mexico.

Who says they will never come? Who knows what men will dare when pressed by want? Hunger has broken through stone walls and braved tempestuous seas. Failure of a root transferred a third part of the Irish people to America; though an Irish kerne is just as fond of his native soil as a Mongolian peasant. Who knows the future of the tea-plant? We have had a vine disease and a potato-blight Suppose the tea-plant were to fail? If such a disaster should convert China into another Ireland, the people would have to leave it in millions. If a seventh part of the Chinese people came over to America, they would swamp the ballot-boxes, and under a Republican Constitution they might assume the ruling power.

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