In 1850, only 7 Chinese women were in San Francisco compared to the 4, 018 Chinese men. These lows numbers could " ve been because Chinese men were afraid to bring their wives and raise families in a place full of racial violence. The growing anti-Chinese sentiment and few labor opportunities reduced the chances for entry of Chinese women. The few women in San Francisco's Chinatown basically turned Chinatown into a bachelor's society. Many men went to brothel houses to release their sexual tensions, thus increasing the demands and values of prostitution. Prostitution in Chinatown increased, and in 1870, 61 percent of the 3536 Chinese women in California as prostitutes (Takaki, 1998).
By 1879, seventy-one percent of Chinese women in San Francisco were prostitutes. However, the increased amount of Chinese women becoming a prostitute was not by choice. Immigrant women who became prostitutes, such as Wong Ah So, came to America on promises of marriage made by men only to be forced or tricked into prostitution. Chan's book, 'Asian Americas: An Interpretive History', was able to shed some light as to why so few Chinese women were able to enter the U.
S. From the mid-19 th century to the early 20 th century, Chinese women were only allowed to enter the U. S. as the wives and daughters of merchants or U.
S. citizens. Several acts, such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the Page Law, were passed in an attempt to stop the immigration of Chinese because many anti-Chinese individuals assumed that all Chinese women were prostitutes. As Chan states in her book, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act suspended the entry of Chinese laborers for ten years but exempted merchants, students and teachers, diplomats, and travelers from its provisions (Chan, 54).
Under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, only women who were native-born, married or born overseas to merchants in the U. S. could immigrate, thus resulting in an average of 108 Chinese immigrant women in 1882. The Page Law of 1875, which 'forbid the entry of Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian contract laborers, women for the purpose of prostitution, and felons' was so strictly enforced that legitimate wives had trouble entering America (Chan, 54). Yung argues that in order for Chinese women to enter the country, they had to prove that they were 'moral' women. 'Bound feet became a moral standard for Chinese women at the checkpoint' (Yung, Judith).
This standard, however, didn't apply to all women. Many 'moral' women came from areas that didn't practice foot-binding, whereas many prostitutes bound their feet to increase their sexual appeal. To pass immigration restrictions, women had to lie to officials and enter the U. S. as citizens or as wives of U. S.
citizens using red certificates that were issued to American-born Chinese females who left for China before 1882. As Judith Yung's research shows, most Chinese women who immigrated to San Francisco in the mid-19 th century were prostitutes, mu i tsar (servants) ranging from ages sixteen to twenty-five, or merchants' wives or daughters. Some immigrants were sold by their families for money, were promised marriage, or kidnapped and sold. These immigrants were often sold to Chinese merchants as concubines, and were treated well if they pleased their owners.
Others were auctioned off to parlor houses or ended up in cribs. Parlor houses were luxurious rooms furnished extravagantly on the upper floors of Chinatown. These women were dressed in beautiful silk clothing, and were displayed and made available to certain clients. Cribs, on the other hand, were twelve by fourteen feet shacks usually facing a dimly lit alley. Prostitutes living in cribs would draw their customers through barred windows, selling themselves for as little as twenty-five cents. Consequently, women in cribs were exposed to harsh treatment and were ultimate infected with a sexual disease.
Once diseased, these women were of no use and were thrown out on the streets or locked up in a room anyone until they died (Yung, Judith). The prostitution trade was considered easy money, thus it was a big trade. Trafficking prostitution was too profitable to be stopped by laws alone. Brothel owners alone were able to make an annual profit of $2, 500 on each prostitute.
The Hip Yee Tong, for example, imported 6, 000 women and made a profit of $200, 000 from the trade between 1852 and 1873. Chinese prostitution was soon recognized by the Americans. Stories of the prostitution trade became common in books and newspapers. Americans saw Chinese prostitution as proof of the 'immorality of the Chinese and the repression of their women by their patriarchal cultural values' (Takaki). Yung argues that Chinese prostitution was always singled out for "moral condemnation" even though there were more white prostitutes.
Many blamed the Chinese for 'vile diseases capable of destroying the very morals, the manhood and the health of our people... ultimately destroying the whole nations' (Yung, Judith). Chinese merchants became anxious about the safety of their families as well as the negative image portrayed on Chinatown, and worked with American authorities to identify and deport Chinese prostitutes. Two Protestant mission homes, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Mission Home, were created in the 1870 s, were opened to rescue and rehabilitate Chinese prostitutes. They greatly influenced the decreasing rate of Chinese prostitution, and the numbers of Chinese wives slowly increased after 1880. According to Yung's research, Reverend Otis Gibson organized the Women's Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church to save 'heathen souls" of women.
Between the 1870's and the 1900's, more then a thousand Chinese women had asked for help at these homes. Jin Ho was among the many rescued by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Jin Ho had run away from a brothel and tried to kill herself by drowning. A year after being rescued, Jin Ho was baptized and married to a Chinese Christian. In 1874, Margaret Culbertson created a plan to raid brothels with the local police whenever a Chinese woman asked for help.
Many of the women who asked for helped needed the protection of the Home and used it as a temporary hiding place. At the Home, the women were taught the Christian doctrine. Some girls eventually went back to China, but most stayed in America and married Chinese Christians. By the 1920's, the Methodist Mission made fewer rescues and paid more attention to abused wives and orphans.
Although the missionary women of the Homes wanted to save the 'heathen souls' of women, many missionaries used the law to serve their own motives. Although the missionaries helped the Chinese, deep down they resented the Chinese. They helped the anti-Chinese sentiments by continuing the negative stereotypes of the Chinese. Their reason for doing this was because of their belief in the superiority of white, Angola-Saxon protestant culture. Judith Yung argues that not all prostitutes needed the homes help in surviving. Prostitutes like Suey Hin managed to become a madam after buying her freedom back.
From her story in 'Unbound Voices' by Judy Yung, Suey Hin told the story of her life. Suey Hin was sold by her father when she was five years old for a piece of gold in the Shandong Province. At age twelve, Suey Hin was resold in San Francisco for three handfuls of gold. For the next ten years, Suey Hin worked as a prostitute until she saved enough to buy her freedom back and to marry. However, three years later, her husband got sick and died and Suey Hin returned to China. She stayed only long enough to find seven girls and smuggled them into America as her native-born children.
After turning to Christianity in 1898, Suey Hin freed the girls, promising to find them husbands. Wong Ah So was able to share her experiences as a prostitute in "Unbound Voices" written by Judy Yung. Wong Ah So was brought to San Francisco thinking she was going to marry Huey Yow. Two weeks after arriving, Ah So was told by Sing Yow that Heuy Yow had bought her as a slave. For the next four years, Ah So was forced to work as a prostitute for Sing Yow in various towns, and had to borrow $1000 to pay off Heuy Yow who has harassing her (Yung, Judy). Sing Yow later sold Ah So to another owner in Fresno, CA for $2, 500.
Ah So, recognized by a family friend at a tong banquet, was rescued and taken care of ten days later by Donald ina Cameron. Under Cameron's care, Ah So learned how to read and write Chinese and English, weaving, and became a Christian. A year later, Ah So married Louie Kwong, a merchant from Boise, Idaho. Ah So was among the last ones rescued, Christianized, and married to a Chinese Christian..