The Chinese Laundryman: A Study of Social Isolation

Overview

Chinese hand laundries have been a fixture of America's urban landscape for over one hundred years. Yet little is publicly known about the workings of this familiar institution which originated shortly after Chinese immigrants had started to arrive in some numbers in California in the 1850s. At that time the Chinese worked in a wide range of occupations, hand laundries being one of them.

But with the faltering of the Western economy and as European immigration to the United ...

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Overview

Chinese hand laundries have been a fixture of America's urban landscape for over one hundred years. Yet little is publicly known about the workings of this familiar institution which originated shortly after Chinese immigrants had started to arrive in some numbers in California in the 1850s. At that time the Chinese worked in a wide range of occupations, hand laundries being one of them.

But with the faltering of the Western economy and as European immigration to the United States mounted, the tide of anti-Chinese sentiment swelled, which culminated in violent evictions of the Chinese from West Coast cities and in the imposition of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The laundry became one of the few occupations in which Chinese were able to continue to work. This book is the definitive scholarly study of Chinese laundries and of those who worked in them in the United States.

Sio's work, researched in the 1930s, was completed as a dissertation in 1953 at the University of Chicago's School of Sociology. It is an intimate insider's look at the life and work of Chinese hand laundry workers in Chicago, and is one of the most insightful participant observation studies of this kind. Dr. Siu, himself the son of a laundryman, introduces in it the key sociological concept of the "sojourner" and explores the whole nature of immigrant economies.

Considered a classic work by students of overseas Chinese and Asian American studies, The Chinese Laundryman is also a landmark in the study of ethnic occupations and in the social and cultural history of the immigrant in America. Vividly descriptive and highly readable, the book will appeal to anyone interested in the ethnic and the urban experience in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This is a long-overdue publication of a 1953 doctoral dissertation. Concentrating on Chicago, Siu illuminates in exceptional detail important aspects of the life of the Chinese in America. The volume is much more than a specialist's monograph. It is a significant primary source, being the product of a participant-observer and replete with stories, letters, and interviews. In addition, Siu's analysis yields useful insights, particularly about the persistence of Old World traditions and the Chinese laundryman as ``sojourner.'' This excellent study should be of interest to those in ethnic and immigration history and in urban and labor history as well. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries. Roy H. Tryon, Delaware State Archives, Dover
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814778746
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/1988
  • Series: New York Chinatown History Project Ser.
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 1,306,873
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Chan Pang Siu, the son of a laundry worker, studied sociology at the University of Chicago under Ernest Burgess and Louis Wirth. Afterwards, he worked as a social worker in Boston's Chinatown during the 1940s and then taught sociology for twenty years. he retired as Chairperson and Professor of Sociology from the Detroit Institute of Technology in 1971. His essays have appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, Burgess and Bogue's Contributions to Urban Sociology, and Qishiniandai [The Seventies].

John Kuo Wei Tchen, author of Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown (1984), is cofounder and historian of the New York Chinatown History Project.

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