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The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City

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Overview

In the summer of 1909, the gruesome murder of nineteen-year-old Elsie Sigel sent shock waves through New York City and the nation at large. The young woman's strangled corpse was discovered inside a trunk in the midtown Manhattan apartment of her reputed former Sunday school student and lover, a Chinese man named Leon Ling.

Through the lens of this unsolved murder, Mary Ting Yi Lui offers a fascinating snapshot of social and sexual relations between Chinese and non-Chinese populations in turn-of-the-century New York City. Sigel's murder was more than a notorious crime, Lui contends. It was a clear signal that attempts to maintain geographical and social boundaries between the city's Chinese male and white female populations had failed.

When police discovered Sigel and Leon Ling's love letters, giving rise to the theory that Leon Ling killed his lover in a fit of jealous rage, this idea became even more embedded in the public consciousness. New Yorkers condemned the work of Chinese missions and eagerly participated in the massive national and international manhunt to locate the vanished Leon Ling.

Lui explores how the narratives of racial and sexual danger that arose from the Sigel murder revealed widespread concerns about interracial social and sexual mixing during the era. She also examines how they provoked far-reaching skepticism about regulatory efforts to limit the social and physical mobility of Chinese immigrants and white working-class and middle-class women.

Through her thorough re-examination of this notorious murder, Lui reveals in unprecedented detail how contemporary politics of race, gender, and sexuality shaped public responses to the presence of Chinese immigrants during the Chinese exclusion era.

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Editorial Reviews

Ethnic and Racial Studies

This is an outstandingly well researched and elegantly executed book, rich in detail, theoretical insight, and contemporary illustration drawn from the archives, and at times great fun. . . . [I]t sets a new high standard for writing about the Asian American experience.
— Gregor Benton
American Historical Review - Krystyn Moon
Lui has created a solid historical narrative through her combined use of empirical data and Chinese-language sources. . . . [Her] work deserves to be recognized as an important contribution to American history.
Ethnic & Racial Studies - Gregor Benton
This is an outstandingly well researched and elegantly executed book, rich in detail, theoretical insight, and contemporary illustration drawn from the archives, and at times great fun. . . . [I]t sets a new high standard for writing about the Asian American experience.
Journal of American History - Renqiu Yu
[A] magnificent social history. . . . [T]he book's graceful style, along with its vivid, engaging narratives and insightful analyses, is certain to be appreciated and enjoyed beyond the scholarly community.
Journal of Asian American Studies - Shilpa Dave
Mary Ting Yi Lui's book, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery, is the perfect blend of a thrilling mystery bestseller and a detailed cultural history.
The Historian - Karen J. Leong
Lui, in this provocative and compelling study, demonstrates how America's racial and gender formations were mapped onto the dynamic and urban landscape of New York's Chinatown. This book is highly recommended.
Journal of Asian American Studies - Shilpa Davé
Mary Ting Yi Lui's book, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery, is the perfect blend of a thrilling mystery bestseller and a detailed cultural history.
From the Publisher

Winner of the 2005 History Award, The Association for Asian American Studies

"Lui has created a solid historical narrative through her combined use of empirical data and Chinese-language sources. . . . [Her] work deserves to be recognized as an important contribution to American history."--Krystyn Moon, American Historical Review

"This is an outstandingly well researched and elegantly executed book, rich in detail, theoretical insight, and contemporary illustration drawn from the archives, and at times great fun. . . . [I]t sets a new high standard for writing about the Asian American experience."--Gregor Benton, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"[A] magnificent social history. . . . [T]he book's graceful style, along with its vivid, engaging narratives and insightful analyses, is certain to be appreciated and enjoyed beyond the scholarly community."--Renqiu Yu, Journal of American History

"Mary Ting Yi Lui's book, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery, is the perfect blend of a thrilling mystery bestseller and a detailed cultural history."--Shilpa Davé, Journal of Asian American Studies

"Lui, in this provocative and compelling study, demonstrates how America's racial and gender formations were mapped onto the dynamic and urban landscape of New York's Chinatown. This book is highly recommended."--Karen J. Leong, The Historian

American Historical Review
Lui has created a solid historical narrative through her combined use of empirical data and Chinese-language sources. . . . [Her] work deserves to be recognized as an important contribution to American history.
— Krystyn Moon
Ethnic & Racial Studies
This is an outstandingly well researched and elegantly executed book, rich in detail, theoretical insight, and contemporary illustration drawn from the archives, and at times great fun. . . . [I]t sets a new high standard for writing about the Asian American experience.
— Gregor Benton
Journal of American History
[A] magnificent social history. . . . [T]he book's graceful style, along with its vivid, engaging narratives and insightful analyses, is certain to be appreciated and enjoyed beyond the scholarly community.
— Renqiu Yu
Journal of Asian American Studies
Mary Ting Yi Lui's book, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery, is the perfect blend of a thrilling mystery bestseller and a detailed cultural history.
— Shilpa Davé
The Historian
Lui, in this provocative and compelling study, demonstrates how America's racial and gender formations were mapped onto the dynamic and urban landscape of New York's Chinatown. This book is highly recommended.
— Karen J. Leong
Journal of Asian American Studies
Mary Ting Yi Lui's book, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery, is the perfect blend of a thrilling mystery bestseller and a detailed cultural history.
— Shilpa Dave
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691130484
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/12/2007
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 702,456
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Ting Yi Lui is Assistant Professor of American Studies and History at Yale University. She is a former curator of the Museum of Chinese in the Americas in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : "find Miss Sigel dead in trunk" 1
Ch. 1 "Terra Incognita" : mapping Chinatown's racial and gender boundaries in lower Manhattan 17
Ch. 2 Beyond Chinatown : policing Chinese American male mobility in New York City 52
Ch. 3 Policing urban girls' and women's mobility and desires 81
Ch. 4 Playing the "missionary game" 111
Ch. 5 Chinese American interracial couples and families in New York City 143
Ch. 6 "The most remarkable get-away in police history" 175
Ch. 7 "Disgrace on the whole body of our people" 198
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2008

    Chinatown Trunk Mystery

    Mary Ting Yi Lui's The Chinatown Trunk Mystery is a fasinating story of murder, sex, and the raisct fears of whites towards the Chinese. In 1909 nineteen-year-old Elise Sigel's body is discovered in the trunk in her lovers apartment. With Sigel's death the press start a relentless campaign against the Chinese in New York City.

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