on Book Signing: Chinese St. Louis
11-21-2004, Parkway South Middle School
I would like to thank the St. Louis Chinese
Association, St. Louis Modern Chinese
School, St. Louis Chinese Cultural Association,
St. Louis Chinese American News, and Dr.
Harold Low of Chinese American Forum for
their generous support and sponsorship
of the book signing today. The Chinese
proverb "Yin Shui Si Yuan",
meaning one should appreciate the origins
of a river when drinking its water, best
describes my feelings now. I am keenly
aware of the debts I owe to the following
individuals and institutions for their
kindness, generosity, and selfless support.
first goes to the many Chinese Americans
in St. Louis. From the inception of the
idea to the completion of the project,
they have enthusiastically supported me
in every possible way they can. While
hundreds of Chinese St. Louisans provided
useful information on the subject, over
sixty individuals warmly and generously
opened their houses, businesses, and offices
to me, contributing time and life experience
to the project. I want to thank my family,
my husband Dr. Mohammad Samiullah, Professor
of Physics at Truman State University,
my older son William Ling, currently a
graduating junior majoring electrical
engineering at Johns Hopkins University,
and my younger son Isaac Ling, a six grader
of the Rapid Academic Program (gifted
program) at Kirksville Middle School,
who have shared my anxiety and joy as
well during this long intellectual journey.
Now I want to briefly explain to you why
I wanted to write a book on Chinese Americans
in St. Louis. First, historically, Chinese
in St. Louis, like their counterparts
everywhere, have been severely misrepresented.
The commonly used term "Hop Alley"
for Chinatown in St. Louis represents
the myth of the early Chinese community.
why the early Chinese community was called
"Hop Alley?" The term "Hop"
sometimes refers to drug use (as "hop"
means opium, hence "hop-heads"
or "hopped up"). It might be
related to American pronunciation of Cantonese
names such as Hop Sing. Whatever its source,
the name for St. Louis' Chinatown seems
to reflect the cultural and racial bias
of the larger society, and it was eventually
used for the entire Chinese quarter beyond
the original alley.
like many Chinese communities in other
parts of the country, has been stereotyped
as a mysterious and dangerous place, often
associated with opium dens, tong wars,
and murder. Most printed news about Chinatown
in St. Louis was filled with such sensational
stories of horror.
This was the myth of Hop Allay. What was
the reality of Hop Alley? Local records
indicate that Chinese businesses, especially
hand laundries, drew a wide clientele
and thus the businesses run by Chinese
immigrants contributed disproportionally
to the city's economy. My research indicates
that Chinese provided 60 percent of the
laundry services for the city during the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
although Chinese comprised less than 0.1
percent of the total population. Hop Alley
survived with remarkable resilience and
energy until 1966 when urban renewal bulldozers
leveled the area to make a parking lot
for Busch Stadium.
Chinese Americans in St. Louis have been
long ignored in academic wrings about
St. Louis. More than two hundred works
have been published so far depicting the
multi-cultural and multi-ethnic aspects
of St. Louisans with African, German,
Irish, Italian, and Jewish heritage that
greatly help our understanding of the
region as a multi-cultural metropolis
from its beginning. Among these works,
however, none deals with Chinese in the
region. The under-representation of Chinese
in scholarly works reflects the "marginalized"
existence of Chinese in the past and the
lack of recognition of the significance
of the Chinese to the region at present.
With the population growth of Chinese
St. Louisans and their increasing visibility
in the region, it becomes relevant and
important for scholars to study their
history to get a better picture of multiethnic
and multicultural development of St. Louis.
a study of Chinese in Midwestern states
is needed for a more complete understanding
of the Asian America. Although the majority
of Asian Americans still reside in the
larger urban communities on the West and
East Coasts, a new demographic trend has
been emerging since the 1950s as the Midwestern
states have seen a rapid increase in Asian
American population. In Missouri, for
instance, the Asian and Pacific Island
population has doubled or tripled in every
decade since 1940, with 408 (0.01% of
general population) in 1940, 1,046 (0.03%
of general population) in 1950, 3,146
(0.06% of general population) in 1960,
7,207 (0.15% of general population) in
1970, 24,926 (0.5% of general population)
in 1980, 39,580 (0.8% of general population)
in 1990, and 60,000 (1.7% of general population)
in 2000. While traditionally Asian American
studies have been coast-centered and most
academic works dealing with St. Francisco,
New York, Los Angeles, and Hawaii, this
study will directly contribute to broadening
the scope of Asian American studies currently
underway in academic circles from the
coast-centered perspective to one that
includes the Midwestern states as well.
examination and analysis of the conditions
of the Chinese American community help
in the formation and implementation of
urban policies concerning new immigrants
and ethnic communities. The poignant history
of Chinese St. Louisans can undoubtedly
offer valuable lessons and insights to
present urban policy-making. The story
of Sam Wah Laundry is most illustrative
on this point.
Finally, what is the definition of Cultural
Community and its prospective? A cultural
community is formed not just for economic
reason, but more for cultural and psychological
reasons. "A cultural community does
not necessarily have particular physical
boundaries, but rather is defined by the
common cultural practices and beliefs
of its members. The cultural community
is constituted by the language schools,
religious institutions, Chinese community
organizations, Chinese cultural agencies,
Chinese political coalitions or ad hoc
committees, and the wide range of cultural
celebrations and activities facilitated
by the fore-mentioned agencies and groups.
The St. Louis Chinese community since
the 1960s is a typical cultural community."
(Huping Ling, Chinese St. Louis, p. 12).
Unlike the conventional Chinatown, its
physical boundary is more flexible, fluid,
and unfixed. Such a community is very
visible and identifiable when the Chinese
language schools are in sessions on Sundays,
the Chinese churches congregate its members,
and community organizations hold cultural
celebrations and activities.
community model has been warmly received
by the academic community. Dr. Ronald
H. Bayor, editor of The Journal of American
Ethnic History, praises that "Huping
Ling provides a well-documented account
of the development of a cultural community
among Chinese Americans in St. Louis.
The book offers an insightful history
of the relatively unstudied Midwestern
urban Chinese and provides a model for
understanding other Chinese as well as
non-Asian American communities."
Dr. Roger Daniels, Charles Phelps Taft
Emeritus Professor of History at University
of Cincinnati and a prominent pioneer
scholar of Asian American studies, comments
that "Huping Ling's study of Chinese
St. Louis is a breakthrough volume, the
first full-scale study of the ethnic group
in a Midwestern American city. Only by
examining the evolution of such smaller
communities can the full scope of the
Chinese diaspora in America be understood."
Dr. Franklin Ng, president of the Association
of Asian American Studies, notes that
"Chinese St. Louisans provides a
much-needed addition to the published
literature about Chinese Americans. It
skillfully places the Chinese in St. Louis
in the context of urban history and the
Chinese American historiography. Ling's
presentation of the cultural community'
is important as it will help to further
thinking about Chinese communities that
are not in the form of traditional Chinatowns.
It is a wonderful study, rich with insight
again for coming to the event and for
purchasing a copy of the book. The proceeds
on the book sale will go to the community
organizations that sponsored the book
signing to be used for community cultural
a copy of the book, please call St. Louis
Chinese American News at 314/432-3858
or contact Temple University Press, c/o
Chicago Distribution Center, 11030 S.
Langley Ave., Chicago, IL 60628; Call
toll-free 1-800-621-2736 or fax 1-800-621-8476;
www.temple.edu/tempress (paper $22.95
ISBN 1-59213-039-9; hard-cover $68.50
ISBN 1-59213-038-0, shipping: $4.5 for
first book, $1.00 each additional), or
contact Dr. Ling at firstname.lastname@example.org for
an autographed copy.