Transcribed from the Washington Post, October 25, 1878
CHINA IN AMERICA .
How the Celestials live on the Pacific Coast
A true picture of the Chinaman- His habits, customs and actual condition – The Chinese as servants, merchants and citizens - Statistics of trade
A cordial welcome met The Post last night as it was ushered into the room of Col. Frederick A. Bee, one of the most prominent citizens of San Francisco, California.
Producing his note-book the representative asked:
“What can you tell me regarding cheap Chinese labor, colonel?” queried The Post, in his most captivating manner.
“There is really no such thing as cheap Chinese labor,” was the reply. “The Chinese receive
fair compensation for their work. House servants are paid from $20 to $30 per month, while laborers never receive less than the latter figure for a month’s work. Even upon the railroads they are paid this sum, while white laborers are in demand at $35 per month. Farm hands are paid $22 per month.”
“Are the Chinese good workmen?”
“None could be better. They work hard and earn every cent of their wages. They are honest and faithful. As house-servants they are unequalled, for they can be trusted at any extent, and what conversation they may overhear is never told outside. They are clean, and have everything clean about them. There are over 6,000 employed as servants in houses of the best citizens of San Francisco. They are expert imitators, and a Chinaman, after being six months in a shoe factory, will make as handsome a shoe as the best workman in the place. They are almost too sharp."
“From whom does the opposition to the Chinese come?”
“From that class of people who burned down the hospitals in New York some years ago, and who were prominently before the country when they destroyed the depots at Harrisburg and Pittsburg at the time of the July riots. The leader of this opposition traveled through the country not long ago- you know who I mean, Dennis Kearney.”
“How do the better class of California people regard the Chinese?”
“They regard them as good citizens and wish to encourage the immigration of the Chinese, for these
people have been a great factor in the opening up of California territory. We encouraged the Chinese to come here during the war, when labor was scarce, and when they were wanted to help build our railroads. They do not take the place of white labor, for the railroads will always employ Americans when they want work. In one instance, however, when the Southern California road was being constructed across a desert tract, no white man would do the work at any price, the heat was too great, and the road would never have been built if it had not been for the Chinese. I can tell you something further about how the better class of people regard the Chinese. When the legislature assembled last session a bill was passed, owing to heavy outside exertions, which left the question whether the Chinese should go or not with the people at the next election. The result, I am confident would have vindicated the slanders upon the Chinese, but just before the election the bill was repealed. I am certain if the question whether the Chinese should go or the Irish population that opposes them, the voters being persons who hold say $200 worth of realty, that the verdict would be in favor of the Chinese remaining.”
“Why, then, is there so much legislation against these people?”
“I will tell you. The vote in the state is very close, and three thousand one way or the other will change the vote. These three thousand are the sand-lot men and the irresponsible riff-raff population, who vote for the party which yells loudest against the Chinese. So when the politicians get in power they have pledged themselves, and such is the understanding¸ to fight the Chinese to the bitter end.”
”Do the California people want more Chinese labor?”
In an address of Mr. McShafter at the fair of the State agricultural society he said that there was not enough labor in the state, and that 25,000 more men were wanted. Now if Eastern men choose to come out to California, they can do so, and get good wages. If not, there are Chinese who will come, and whom we would like to have. There are four million acres of land surveyed in the state, which is lying useless. One thing I want to say about these Chinese immigrants. They never come bound by any servile contract. The six companies, an organization which is generally thought to be a secret, mysterious association, is a purely benevolent institution, which cares for the Chinese, assists when sick, and pays for the bodies of its members being sent over when the latter die.”
“But the Chinese are not all laborers and house-servants?” asked The Post.
“By no means,”said the Colonel. “Large numbers of them are prosperous merchants. There are twenty-eight Chinese members of the San Francisco exchange. Some people think that the Chinese do nothing for this country. Why, figures at the custom-house show that during the past year the Chinese merchants paid for imports, $1,756,000; they paid during the same time into the internal revenue for stamps, licenses, etc., $580,000; in San Francisco they paid $896,000 for rents, $82,000 for fire insurances and $96, 000 for marine insurances, while to one draymens association they paid $61,000. That is what they did during the past year.”
“Is the Chinese immigration heavy at present?”
“There are two steamers a month from China. These bring over about 300 men each trip, but they take back just as many. The immigration is governed by the state of the labor market. If there is not enough work the Chinaman does not come. The immigration now is not so great by thousands as it was when there was so much work on the railroads.”
“What truth is there in the statement that they live so cheaply?”
“Very little. Of course they live different to what we do, but the idea that they subsist entirely on rice is absurd. The duty on each pound of rice is about two and half cents, and it retails at five or six cents per pound. So you can see they cannot live so cheap as it is pretended they do. They subsist chiefly on fish, chicken, pork and duck.”
“What is the spirit of the Chinese government toward us?”
“It is one of unbounded confidence and respect. They look to our laws as a pattern for their government, and are willing to copy from us. Chin Lai Pin’s credentials show this. The Chinese government is not friendly toward England because of the latter’s policy of foreign opium into China, and is therefore all the better disposed toward us, and willing to divert to us this trade which England now monopolize. This is a great opening for us, for China’s resources are almost illimitable.”