I was very excited when I started writing this blog, and it suddenly reminded me of when I was young. Every time I wrote an essay I almost always used “I was very excited…” to start writing, which is how most young people started an article in China during the certain time period. At the time we would write in this popular way even without being excited. This time, there really are a lot of things to be excited about. For more than three years since I started working here, I’ve been waiting for the day we would open our new museum. In a blink of an eye, it’s already been several month since the new museum opened. The museum’s opening has created an opportunity for us at the collections department to use the entirety of the old site to develop collections preservation and research work. Recently MOCA started a blog, and it’s really another thing to celebrate!
Something I’ve always felt was unfortunate has inspired me to write in Chinese about some thoughts on my work. Despite the fact that I am here now, before I accepted this job at MOCA, I didn’t know about this museum’s existence. This made me realize that many new Chinese immigrants may be like me— they don’t know about this museum’s existence. Moreover, they don’t know about the opportunity of interacting with this museum and more individuals, or that they are actually linked in countless ways.
Using MOCA’s blog, I prepared a series of ways using Chinese to introduce our museum’s collections to the Chinese in America, and to introduce this “home” for Chinese Americans to Chinese immigrants like me. I hope everybody will take a step towards understanding the Collections and Research Center and how we preserve Chinese American and immigrant history. I also hope I can collect even more donations from the newer immigrant generation such as historical documents, pictures, and objects so we can have a more abundant collection in our museum and enrich Chinese American history.
Getting back on track, today I’d like to tell everyone about a book in our collections that is hand-written and more than seventy years old—‘Coaching Book’.
A few months ago California apologized to Chinese Americans for the bill passed by America in 1882 known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese Exclusion Act was to last 10 years when it was first passed, but by 1902 the act became permanent. It wasn’t until 1943 when America joined forces with China against Japan that President Roosevelt finally signed a bill repealing the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited the Chinese from buying land, multiracial marriages, and more. It had an immense impact on Chinese immigrants, which created phenomena like Chinatown’s bachelor apartments and “bought papers” with fake identities that were used to come to America.
The first collection of archives MOCA constructed thirty years ago was from Chinatown’s Bachelor Apartments. I will give a detailed introduction about this collection in the next entry. Today, I want to first discuss the recent topic of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which has made many later-generation Chinese Americans search for stories about their grandparent’s “bought fake identity papers” in order to enter America.
In our museum’s archives there is an extremely precious handwritten ‘Coaching Book.’ In reality, this
A "coaching book" from the MOCA collection.
book is a manual that trains people on how to “buy papers.” The book is 50 pages front to back, and at the time Chinese immigrants struggled to memorize and recite the book’s details for a smooth entrance to America. People who bought identities had to familiarize themselves with the book and destroy the book before reaching America in order to avoid the immigration office from seizing evidence and sending them back. According to reports, 56,113 Chinese immigrants came to America from 1910 to 1940; most importantly, they entered the country from San Francisco’s Angel Island. At the time, many Chinese immigrants were taken into custody, while some were sent back.
As a result, of all the things our museum has collected this 50 page completely handwritten book is extremely precious. Inside it prepares detailed information on several generations of ancestors, direct and distant relations, and detailed information on family names, in a method of Q&A. It also prepares even more detailed questions. Those individuals who bought papers had to also familiarize themselves with detailed arrangements of the family compound.
As the picture of the book shows:
“House #7, Cheng Wang, abroad about 19 years, wife at home, son Ya Fei about 10 years old, total 3 people
House #12, Yong Qing, abroad, wife at home, no children, total 2 people
This book lists 19 houses in all, including all details big and small. As you can see, our grandparent’s generation had to memorize this book in order to enter America and avoid having their visas rejected. It really wasn’t easy.
Yue Ma, Collections Manager
如附图所书：大七间 成旺屋 出外约十九年 妻在家 子亚飞 约十岁 共三人
大十二间 永情屋 出外 妻在家 未有子女 共二人
马 越, 馆藏部副主任
Filed under: Collections, MOCA, Angel Island, Chinese American, Chinese Exclusion Act, MOCA