The First Chinese American

The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo

Scott D. Seligman

Hong Kong University Press

The First Chinese American

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Pub Date: April 2013

ISBN: 9789888139903

336 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: April 2013

ISBN: 9789888139897

336 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $50.00£42.00

The First Chinese American

The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo

Scott D. Seligman

Hong Kong University Press

Chinese in America endured abuse and discrimination in the late nineteenth century, but they had a leader and a fighter in Wong Chin Foo (1847–1898), whose story is a forgotten chapter in the struggle for equal rights in America. The first to use the term "Chinese American," Wong defended his compatriots against malicious scapegoating and urged them to become Americanized to win their rights. A trailblazer and a born showman who proclaimed himself China's first Confucian missionary to the United States, he founded America's first association of Chinese voters and testified before Congress to get laws that denied them citizenship repealed. Wong challenged Americans to live up to the principles they freely espoused but failed to apply to the Chinese in their midst. This evocative biography is the first book-length account of the life and times of one of America's most famous Chinese—and one of its earliest campaigners for racial equality.

Wong Chin Foo was the earliest, most visible Chinese public advocate speaking and writing in English for the rights of Chinese in the U.S. But until now nothing has been published about his personal history and very little about his significance to the story of Chinese Americans and the Chinese diaspora. Scott Seligman has rescued Wong's life story and placed him into a larger context, including economics in China, Christian missionary work, anti-Chinese legislation in the U.S. and the American press. A thorough researcher and an engaging writer, Seligman has years of experience in China, knows Chinese, and has accessed records others have not consulted. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable narrative that adds significantly to our knowledge of the late-19th and early-20th century history of the Chinese in north America.

John Kuo Wei Tchen, Associate Professor of History and Founding Director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute, New York University

Loved it! I found The First Chinese American full of life and color. It describes a real human who tried lots of things and failed at some, but never stopped trying. There was nothing 'inevitable' about Wong Chin Foo's career. He took a brave and moral stance in favor of civil rights and justice, but at the same time was capable of running out without paying a hotel bill. Wong's tale shows that at least one Chinese didn't fit the image of the docile, pidgin-speaking coolie we have been fed for so long. For this alone it is worth the cover price!

Marsha Cohan, Director, Chinese Program, Maret School

Scott Seligman, based on exhaustive research of both English and Chinese sources, presents a brilliant narrative of not only the colorful stories of this man of unusual energy, determination and resilience, but also the historical process in which he evolved to be a Chinese American. Seligman, a skillful historian and writer, renders very well Wong Chin Foo's faith in the founding principles of the United States, his articulation of the Chinese identification with these principles and his tenacious fight for fairness and equality under the most difficult conditions. Readers will find this a fascinating and rewarding read.

Renqiu Yu, Professor of History, Purchase College, State University of New York

Though born in China, Wong Chin Foo lived in the United States from 1873 to 1898, during which time he was a lecturer on things Chinese, a journalist and newspaper publisher, and a political organizer. His lectures and his political advocacy were what made him a highly controversial figure in late nineteenth-century America. The research is of scholarly quality, but the writing is conversational in tone. Illustrations abound. The book should appeal to a scholarly audience as well as to a general audience.

Edward J. M. Rhoads, Professor Emeritus in History, University of Texas at Austin

With his masterful storytelling and meticulous research, Scott Seligman reveals new insights into American life through the trials and tribulations of a fearless U.S. citizen, Wong Chin Foo, the first self-declared Chinese American. Wong's quest for equality and his campaigns against vice in early Chinatowns despite numerous assassination attempts are fascinating and largely unknown. This book is a must-read for everyone interested in American and Chinese history.

Helen Zia, Author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

In this lively, balanced and meticulously researched portrait of Wong Chin Foo's adventures as an author, journalist, lecturer, political organizer, Confucian preacher, immigration inspector and entrepreneur, Seligman greatly enhances our understanding of the social and political conditions of early Chinese migrants in the U.S.

Hsuan L. Hsu, Associate Professor of English, University of California, Davis

Thoroughly researched and documented and elegantly written, Seligman's The First Chinese American is an important contribution to Chinese-American history. Very little of what Seligman has discovered about Wong Chin Foo has been presented in standard publications on the Chinese in the United States, which rarely focus in such depth on individuals.

Raymond Lum, Librarian for the Western Languages Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University

Wong Chin Foo converted to Christianity in the mid-nineteenth century, came to America, ultimately abandoned his faith – and in the process became the 'first Chinese American.' Meticulously researched and well-written, Scott Seligman's biography fills a significant gap in Asian-American history. Highly recommended!

Keith Harper, Professor of Baptist Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

A satisfying book, whether as a entertaining biography of an American (and Wong was American) original, as an evocative history of post-Civil War America, or as an in-depth introduction to the Chinese struggle for equal rights.

Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books
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About the Author

Scott D. Seligman is a writer, a historian, a genealogist, a retired corporate executive and a career "China hand." He holds an undergraduate degree in history from Princeton University with distinction in American civilization and a master's degree from Harvard University. Fluent in Mandarin and conversant in Cantonese, he lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China for eight years and reads and writes Chinese. He has worked as a legislative assistant to a member of the U.S. Congress, lobbied the Chinese government on behalf of American business, managed a multinational public relations agency in China, served as spokesperson and communications director for a Fortune 50 company and taught English in Taiwan. He is the author of Three Tough Chinamen, Chinese Business Etiquette, and Dealing with the Chinese, and co-author of the best-selling The Cultural Revolution Cookbook, Chinese at a Glance, and Now You're Talking Mandarin Chinese. He lives in Washington, DC.