The first thing that stood out to me in the reading for My Life in China and America was the connection between Wing Yung’s experiences and the racism that Chinese Americans experienced during this time. At the beginning of the read that Dr. D’Haeseleer assigned, Yung recounts a few of his experiences in the United States, with one specific story challenging racist ideas that people had about the Chinese during this time. After Yung politely confronted a Scottish immigrant about his behavior, the Scotsman proceeded to punch Yung in the face. Yung, stunned and upset, retaliated by punching the man even harder in the same spot, which resulted in the Scotsman grabbing Yung’s hands. At this point, a manager stepped in and asked what was happening, to which Yung responded that “…I was only defending myself. Your friend insulted me and added injury to insult. I took him for a gentlemen, but he has proved himself a blackguard” 1. Because of this comment and the sore beating that he took, the Scotsman ended up not showing his face in public for a week. Yung described this as being due to him “being whipped by a little Chinaman in a public manner”2. The incident ended up causing quite the sensation among the Chinese people living there because “no Chinese within its jurisdiction had ever been known to have the courage and pluck to defend his rights…when they had been violated or trampled upon by a foreigner”3. It also caused Yung to earn the respect of those in his community for his unwillingness to be disrespected by those around him. Yung hoped that his acts would inspire his fellow countrymen to defend themselves in the future and that “the people of China will be so educated and enlightened as to know what their rights are, public and private, and to have the moral courage to assert and defend them whenever they are invaded”4. From what I learned in the documentary, his hopes perfectly described the actions and reactions of the Chinese Americans to the discrimination that they faced during the time of the exclusion acts. From suing the United States government for their right to be recognized as citizens to demanding justice when numerous Chinese people were horrifically lynched, the Chinese Americans truly carried out Yung’s call to know and defend their basic human rights, even in the face of unspeakable odds.
The second piece of the reading that caught my attention was Yung’s journey through Taiping country, as he called it. When Yung was traveling through China, he decided to make a trip through the area taken over by the Taiping rebels. While there, he ended up meeting with Kan Wong, Hong Xiuquan’s nephew. The two had a very cordial meeting and Yung was able to suggest some reforms and improvements to the Taiping governmental system. These included establishing a military based on scientific principles, organizing a civil government, and creating a banking system with a system of currency. Wong expressed his interest in Yung’s proposals but explained that the was unable to implement them because he could not acquire the proper backing. The Taiping system of government was democratic, so any important decisions “required the consent of the majority to any measure before it could be carried out”5.
I found this democratic system of government to be surprising and yet another example of modernity within Chinese history. This type of thinking reminded me of Li Zicheng and how he displayed post Enlightenment ideals in his rebellion. Although Hong Xiuquan, or, perhaps, the people around him, were probably more deliberate with his ideology than Li Zicheng, it seems that the Chinese rebellions up to this point have both adhered to ‘modern’ ways of thinking. With this in mind, I found it interesting that Kan Wong would have been unable to get backing for the reforms that Yung suggested. It seems that although there were definitely elements of modern thought present in the Taiping movement, there was also discord and/or an unwillingness to change completely.
The final piece of this reading that caught my attention was Yung’s thoughts on the outcome of the Taiping rebellion. According to Yung, and probably most historians, the fifteen years that were spent fighting the rebellion were all for naught, for “It left no trace of its Christian element behind either in Nanking, where it sojourned for nearly ten years, or in Kwang Si, where it had its birth. In China, neither new political ideas nor political theories or principles were discovered which would have constituted the basal facts of a new form of government. So that neither in the religious nor yet in the political world was mankind in China or out of China benefited by that movement. The only good that resulted from the Taiping Rebellion was that God made use of it as a dynamic power to break up the stagnancy of a great nation and wake up its consciousness for a new national life…”6. Although Yung’s assessment is harsh, the accuracy of his statements still struck me and made me look at current events through a different lens. What seemingly large, momentous events that are occurring will end up being nothing but a blip of history, having no sway on anything domestic or international? Can that even happen anymore, what with the internet and the amount of global connectivity that it allows? I suppose that only time will tell!
- Wing Yung, My Life in China and America, (Cer Classics. Hong Kong: Reprinted by China Economic Review Pub, 2007) 42.
- Ibid. 43
- Ibid. 65
- Ibid. 72
Yung, Wing. My Life in China and America. Cer Classics. Hong Kong: Reprinted by China Economic Review Pub, 2007.