Children of Chinatown

Children of Chinatown: Growing up Chinese American in San Francisco, 1850-1920

Revealing the untold stories of a pioneer generation of young Chinese Americans, this book places the children and families of early Chinatown in the middle of efforts to combat American policies of exclusion and segregation.

Rouse challenges long-held notions of early Chinatown as a bachelor community by showing that families–and particularly children–played important roles in its daily life. She explores the wide-ranging images of Chinatown’s youth created by competing interests with their own agendas–from anti-immigrant depictions of Chinese children as filthy and culturally inferior to exotic and Orientalized images that catered to the tourist’s ideal of Chinatown. All of these representations tended to further isolate Chinatown at a time when American-born Chinese children were attempting to define themselves as Chinese American. Facing barriers of immigration exclusion, cultural dislocation, child labor, segregated schooling, crime, and violence, Chinese American children attempted to build a world for themselves on the margins of two cultures. Their story is part of the larger American story of the struggle to overcome racism and realize the ideal of equality.

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Related Publications

Blog Posts

“Fong Bow’s File: Chinese Exclusion and Resistance.” Teaching History: A Journal of Methods 43, no. 1 (Spring 2018).

Journal Articles

“Between Two Worlds: Chinese Immigrant Children and the Production of Knowledge in the Era of Chinese Exclusion.” KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge. 3, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 263-282.

“Charmed Lives:  Charms, Amulets and Childhood in Urban America, 1870-1940.” Journal of American Culture 40, no. 1 (March 2017): 21-33.

“The Limits of Dress:  Chinese American Childhood, Fashion, and Race in the Exclusion Era.” Western Historical Quarterly 41, no. 4  (November 2010): 451-471.

Encyclopedia Articles

“Chinese American Childhood.” Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, and Political Change. Xiaojian Zhao and Edward J. W. Park, editors. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013.

 “A Chinese American Protest.” Defining Documents: Manifest Destiny and the New Nation (1803-1860). Ipswich, MA: Salem Press/EBSCO Publishing, 2013.

Praise for the Book

“The first comprehensive and detailed study of the history of Chinese American children in a major U.S. community. . . . [This book] will change the way we conceptualize Chinese American history.”

American Historical Review

“Rouse’s efforts to reconstruct children’s lived experiences in multiple arenas add an important dimension to the study of the Chinese in San Francisco.”

Colleen Fong, California State University, East Bay

“Rouse breaks new ground in Chinese American history with her sustained analysis of children and family life among Chinese immigrants during the exclusion period. Addressing four overlapping parties who each had a stake in using the children of Chinatown for their own agenda, she constructs her analysis with sophistication and solid evidence.”

-K. Scott Wong, Williams College

“Illuminates an important, generally overlooked, if not historically invisible, component of a community. . . . The archival research . . . is impressive and solid.”

Journal of American History

“[An] intensively researched study. . . . Go[es] beyond statistics to describe the experiences of individuals, a valuable resource for those seeking vibrant examples to enliven their teaching. . . . [Jorae’s] attempt to demonstrate the continuing relevance of her topic is laudable, and the book is essential reading for those seeking a more sophisticated understanding of the Chinese American family in U.S. history.”

Western Historical Quarterly