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The Chinese in America: A Narrative History Paperback – Mar 30 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 30 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004170
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004173
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 454 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #452,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In this outstanding study of the Chinese-American community, the author surpasses even the high level of her bestselling Rape of Nanking. The first significant Chinese immigration to the United States came in the 1850s, when refugees from the Taiping War and rural poverty heard of "the Golden Mountain" across the Pacific. They reached California, and few returned home, but the universally acknowledged hard work of those who stayed and survived founded a great deal more than the restaurants and laundries that formed the commercial core-they founded a new community. Chinese immigrants building the Central Pacific Railroad used their knowledge of explosives to excavate tunnels (and discourage Irish harassment). Chinese workers also married within the Irish community, spread across America and survived even the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1880, which lost much of its impact when San Francisco's birth records were destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906 and no one could prove that a person of Chinese descent was not native born. Chang finds 20th-century Chinese-Americans navigating a rocky road between identity and assimilation, surviving new waves of immigrants from a troubled China and more recently from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Many Chinese millionaires maintain homes on both sides of the Pacific, while "parachute children" (Chinese teenagers living independently in America) are a significant phenomenon. And plain old-fashioned racism is not dead-Jerry Yang founded Yahoo!, but scientist Wen Ho Lee was, according to Chang, persecuted as much for being Chinese as for anything else. Chang's even, nuanced and expertly researched narrative evinces deep admiration for Chinese America, with good reason.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Chang is the author of the best-selling Rape of Nanking (1997), a very disturbing but well-prepared and necessary account of the sacking of that important Chinese city by the Japanese army in the late 1930s. Her writerly acumen is again in evidence in her latest book, which, in her words, tells an epic story--and, indeed, it is shown to be exactly that. Her purview is wide: the immigration of Chinese people to the U.S. from the early nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth. Chinese immigration falls naturally into three waves: those who came here to be laborers during the days of the California gold rush and the building of the transcontinental railroad, those who came to escape the 1949 Communist takeover, and those who came in the 1980s and 1990s as relations between China and the U.S. eased somewhat. The reasons why the Chinese came to the U.S. are only half the story; the other half consists of what they did here and how they were received. But this is not just a bland narration of events. Chang threads personal stories of individuals she came across in her research into her book, making it a much more human account. A final chapter looks at possible future definitions of racial identity. This is history at its most dramatic and relevant, and the book deserves all the attention it undoubtedly will receive. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Before I start commenting on this book, let me mention my own background: I came to America from Hong Kong when I was 18, and only recently became a naturalized American citizen. I have lived in America for 15 years.
I came across The Chinese In America first because a white friend who adopted a Chinese girl recommended the book to me. Since I have little interest in history, I was reluctant to read it at first; but a few pages later I was engrossed by the book. In history classes in college I learned a little bit about the Chinese building rail roads and the Exclusion Act, but not much more. This book gave much more detail and is so well written that I had no trouble reading it to the end. I am sure my being Chinese helped spark the interest in a subject I normally don't care about. When I was done, I was so impressed with the book that I ordered a copy from so that my kids can read it when they grow up.
I think most of the book is accurate, but there are some errors. For example, the book mentioned the Imperial Examination in China as being initiated by the Ching (Manchurian) emperors. I am quite certain that's not true. That Exam's been around for thousands of years, as a lot of ancient literature mention it, such as the famed Journey to the West, whose background was set back in the Tang Dynasty. Ms. Chang's point was that the Manchurians used the Imperial Exams to control the Chinese people, and her attitude towards them is clearly hostile. But the Manchurians are also considered Chinese these days, so it seems ludicrous that a historian should be incensed about a 400 year old injury.
Throughout the book, Ms.
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Format: Hardcover
Unlike her groundbreaking "Rape of Nanking", in which the combination of explosive new material on a covert history and Iris Chang's biting investigative/pursuit tone worked effectively, this book covers familiar Chinese-American history broadly and in great quantity, but presents little startling new revelations (although some of the original interviews are fresh). Some important historical details are glossed over (and wrong in a few cases). At times, her observations are quite biased. As a longtime student of Chinese and Chinese-American history, I was somewhat disappointed that Chang did not "blow the covers off". Nevertheless, the book does serve as a good overview of the Chinese-American experience. Chang's contribution here is that she allows readers to see it from the viewpoint of a Chinese-American, and understand that the racism, struggle and bitter triumph of this experience is still ongoing. That is the theme that she does a good job underscoring with her choice of focus. The tone of her writing is "essay-like", not professorial or objective.
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By A Customer on May 31 2003
Format: Hardcover
An informative piece about an important and growing minority in America whose accomplishments and trials has not received proportional share of coverage in the educational and mainstream media, as many would argue. I found the prose easy to read, and realized that it filled in many gaps in my understanding about the history of my own culture. The author seems to have done a thorough job in research for this book (I was quite surprised to find one of my relatives interviewed), and while some inaccuracies may exist, overall I feel it lends fair coverage to the various facets of life in America experienced by different members of this population.
One of my few criticisms is the author's tendency to switch back and forth from an objective third-person point of view (e.g. "they experienced....")to a more biased first-person perspective (e.g. "We should...), particularly in the last few chapters, which read somewhat like an imperative call-to-arms for the Chinese community to take action against the continued injustices commited against them by US society.
But overall, a great read, and much more interesting than sludging through a stale history textbook.
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Format: Hardcover
While I cannot attest to the accuracy of the balance of this book, Chapter 5 is an awful mis-statement of the historical facts re: The United States, Railroad History, and the Chinese workers for the Central Pacific Railroad.
Ms. Chang moves redwood trees from the Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks to the railroad grade, then blows them up with 250 pounds of black powder; she invents the Territory of California and the Territory of Texas, and then peoples those 'territories' with folks that misuse people of Chinese origin.
To be fair, a few paragraphs written in Chapter 5 are totally correct, but others unhappily display an error in nearly every sentence.
Chapter 5 tells us of Chinese workers hanging off of Cape Horn in baskets, yet does not tell us that the slope of Cape Horn is some 65 degrees, which would make such a feat totally impossible (See "The Central Pacific Railroad and the Legends of Cape Horn", Edson Strobridge, 2002).
Best to keep this book away from small children, it could be harmful to their health.
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Format: Hardcover
The initial portion of the book is a lucid and well organized account of Chinese-American history. The latter half of the book, falters into a jargonistic series of feature stories, which are interesting anecdote, but fail to make any real point. While Ms. Chang is specific in referring to Chinese immigrants by time and place (e.g. "ABC" American born chinese), she uses gross and undefined terms for everyone else (e.g. "Caucasians", "whites" "white culture"). The term "Caucasian" is as meaningless and offensive as the terms "Oriental" Ms. Chang fails to mention that the same opprobrium reserved for the Chinese, was also brought to bear on the Irish and other "white" groups. It is too simplistic to look at "whites" v. "Chinese" as a paradigm for a study of ethnic assimilation. As a journalist, lacking historical acumen or training, Ms. Chang ultimately has little to add.
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