From George Washington's desire (in the heat of the Revolutionary War) for a proper set of Chinese porcelains for afteron tea, to the lives of Chinese-Irish couples in the 1830s, to the commercial success of Chang and Eng (the Siamese Twins ), to rising fears of heathen Chinee, New York before Chinatown offers a provocative look at the role Chinese people, things, and ideas played in the fashioning of American culture and politics. Piecing together various historical fragments and anecdotes from the years before Chinatown emerged in the late 1870s, historian John Kuo Wei Tchen redraws Manhattan's historical landscape and broadens our understanding of the role of port cultures in the making of American identities. Tchen tells his story in three parts. In the first, he explores America's fascination with Asia as a source of luxury items, cultural taste, and lucrative trade. In the second, he explains how Chinese, European-Americans in Yellowface, and various caricatures became objects of curiosity in the expansive commercial marketplace. In the third part, Tchen focuses on how Americans' attitude toward the Chinese changed from fascination to demonization, leading to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Acts beginning in 1882.
John Kuo Wei Tchen is director of Asian/Pacific/American Studies and an associate professor of history at New York University. Tchen received an American Book Award for Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown, 1895-1906 and he edited Paul C. P. Siu's The Chinese Laundryman. In 1980, Tchen cofounded the Museum of Chinese in the Americas.
Winner of John Hope Franklin Publication Prize for the Best Book in American Studies 2000.