NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO CHRONICLE THE CHINESE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN A GROUNDBREAKING FALL 2014 EXHIBITION
Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion, On View September 26, 2014 – April 19, 2015
NEW YORK, NY (June 19, 2014) – This fall, a major exhibition at the New-York Historical Society will explore the Chinese American experience. On view from September 26, 2014 through April 19, 2015, Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion will interpret the legacy of Chinese in the United States as a key element of American history, spanning the late-18th century to the present and all regions of the country. The exhibition will address the challenges of immigration, citizenship and belonging that shaped not only the Chinese American experience, but also the development of the United States from the formation of its policies to its national character.
“Chinese American tells the fascinating but complex story of relations between the United States and China, from the Chinese tea thrown overboard in Boston Harbor, to one of our earliest models of international educational exchange, to the nation's first-ever exclusionary immigration policy, based solely on Chinese origin’” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “The impact of the Chinese in America over more than two hundred years of history has been extraordinary, and yet its story is little or entirely unknown. This exhibition will provoke a new understanding of what it means to be an American, taking its place among New-York Historical's most consequential and eye-opening exhibitions such as Slavery in New York.
Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion will feature approximately 200 objects, including historic documents, maps, artworks, artifacts, and ephemera, drawn from New-York Historical’s collection and loaned by leading cultural institutions and private lenders. These objects will be supplemented by mini-dioramas, soundscapes, and re-created spaces, as well as films and interactive media.
Organized in three main sections with an introduction and conclusion, the exhibition will begin with United States and China, 1784 to 1905. The British had long trade relationships with China, and the leaders of what was the fledgling America saw commercial independence as an important step in defining itself in the post-colonial period. In 1784, three months after the British left America, the Empress of China trading ship set sail from New York Harbor to Canton, China. A Chinese fan commemorating the arrival of the ship, which launched trade between the United States and China, will be featured in the exhibition.
This section of the exhibition also explores the experiences and contributions of Chinese migrants in the 19th century, from a New York doctor to a Western gold miner. These early migrants became ensnared in an anti-Chinese movement that developed in the West during the unsettled years after the Civil War amid racial and class turmoil. When this movement gained national strength, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This act prevented Chinese laborers from entering the country and banned all Chinese from naturalizing as citizens, but in a political compromise to keep the China trade going, exempted merchants, students, diplomats, and tourists. The exhibition will include now-shocking cartoons with racist caricatures from Puck and The Wasp magazines from the 1880s, as well as an 1883 copy of the Chinese American, a newspaper founded in New York by activist-journalist Wong Chin Foo, who also helped found the Chinese Equal Rights League. Photographs from the 1870s of young Chinese boys sent to study at New England schools through the Chinese Educational Mission will show that other models for cooperation existed.
The second section, The Machinery of Exclusion, 1882 to 1943, will examine the enforcement and experience of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Until 1882 there was little government regulation of immigration and consequently no category of “illegal immigration.” America’s system of immigration was created during enforcement of Exclusion, and many of the practices and principles developed under its umbrella were later applied to other groups, framing elements of America’s immigration system that remained in place for more than 80 years. The Exclusion Act was followed in 1892 by a law requiring all Chinese in America to register with the government, which no other segment of the population – but criminals – had to do at that time. Identity certificates will be on display, such as that of prominent actress Anna May Wong from 1924, and a recreated immigration station will evoke the experience of the barracks, inspector’s office, and hospital common to immigration stations like Angel Island in San Francisco Bay (1910-40).
Civil disobedience and legal campaigns to oppose exclusion and unequal treatment began at this time, with 80,000 Chinese Americans refusing to register with the government in 1892, uniquely required of the Chinese. Despite being denied the right to naturalize, Chinese in America acted as Americans when they went to court to secure equal treatment. The exhibition will include a new film about Wong Kim Ark, whose challenge to Exclusion resulted in the important Supreme Court ruling that all people born on US soil are US citizens. Resourceful approaches to immigration rules also arose, such as the concept of the “paper son,” who assumed the identity and papers of someone eligible to immigrate, learning the family history and hometown details of his American host in order to pass interrogation. The exhibition will feature a selection of false “coaching” documents that were hidden inside fruits and nuts and smuggled into Angel Island detention center.
The final section of the show, Journeys in America, 1882 to the present will examine the opportunities and challenges of Chinese American life in the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 to strengthen the U.S. alliance with China in World War II, but severe immigration restrictions continued until the reforms of the Immigration Act of 1965. Many families that were separated for years created poignant family portraits with pasted-in images of missing family members, some of which will be on view. A graphic novel-style pictorial display will illustrate the personal history of three generations of the Chin Family of New York, tracing their journey from China to the US, and the American life they created, including their hand laundry business in the Bronx.
Chinese American experiences also will be shared in the exhibition through brief videos and profiles of notable figures, such as culinary pioneer Joyce Chen, federal appeals court judge Denny Chin, and author and ceramicist Jade Snow Wong. The exhibition will conclude by exploring efforts to reclaim this almost-lost history of the Chinese American experience. One artifact will be the majestic head of a ceremonial dragon, purchased from China by the Chinese American community in Marysville, California in the 1880s. The dragon, “Moo Lung,” traveled throughout the U.S. for cultural events, visiting New York City in 1911, and will be restored especially for this exhibition.
Programs and Special Initiatives
Two interchanging multimedia pieces will greet visitors to the New-York Historical Society. The Chinese in America: We Are Family is a rotating array of Chinese characters for family names and thousands of individual portrait photographs, including distinguished individuals like architect I.M. Pei or champion figure skater Michelle Kwan. The piece was developed by the Committee of 100 for the USA Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Another large rotating collage of portraits will feature profiles of historical and contemporary individuals, and the public can submit personal images through New-York Historical’s website to be incorporated into the display.
A related publication, Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (Scala 2014), will feature 65 artifacts from the exhibition, serving as a companion guide to the show and a stand-alone chronological overview of the critically important history of the Chinese in America.
Special programming related to the exhibition will include:
• an Art Salon on “Chineseness,” featuring the US premiere screening of the Discovery Channel’s series Chineseness, followed by a conversation between featured artist Yang Chihung and series host Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang (October 2, 6:00 – 8:30 pm)
• a film screening of Flower Drum Song (1961), which featured one of the first largely Asian-American casts in Hollywood cinema, with comments by Judge Denny Chin and playwright and screenwriter David Henry Hwang (October 17, 7 pm)
• 22 Lewd Chinese Women, A Trial Reenactment, telling the story of a landmark 1874 court case, hosted by Judge Denny Chin and members of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (October 18, 9:30 – 11 am; registration required); and
• Spring Concert: China West, featuring performances by Manuel Barrueco and the Beijing Guitar Duo (April 23, 6:30 pm).
Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion is curated by Dr. Marci Reaven, Vice President for History Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society, and the chief historian is Dr. John Kuo Wei Tchen, co-founder of the Museum of Chinese in America and founding director of New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute.
A distinguished advisory group of scholars in the fields of history and law helped to develop the exhibition, including Thomas Bender, Joshua Brown, Judge Denny Chin, Eric Foner, Sander Gilman, Madeline Hsu, Erika Lee, David Lei, Mary Lui, Cathy Matson, Mae Ngai, Dael Norwood, Kevin Scott Wong, Frank Wu, Renqiu Yu, and Judy Yung. The Museum of Chinese in America, the Chinese Historical Society of America, and many other lenders of artifacts and images provided critical knowledge and support.
The New-York Historical Society recognizes the leadership support of Oscar Tang and Agnes Hsu-Tang - Tang Family Foundation for Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion. Generous funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Achelis and Bodman Foundations, and Harold J. and Ruth Newman. Additional support provided, in part, by Lulu C. Wang.
About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America's pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.
Laura Washington Julia Esposito
New-York Historical Society Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors
(212) 873-3400 x263 (212) 715-1643