Notes: "Wooden barracks, all specially built; / It's clear they're detention cells. / We Chinese enter this country and suffer / All sorts of autocratic restrictions made at whim. / What a disappointment— / Cooped up inside an iron cage; / We have an impotent ambassador who cannot handle matters. / We knit our brows and cry [because] heaven gives no recourse for our suffering." (Vol. I, no. 13).
A rare complete set of the most important early account of Chinese-American life in the United States, a collection of 1640 vernacular folk rhymes about the American experience written by Cantonese immigrants and their children. In 1987, Marlon Hom published English translations of 220 pieces with a critical introduction (University of California Press).
These verses follow a traditional 46-syllable format familiar to everyone who spoke Catonese, published anonymously in keeping with Confucian teachings. From the introduction it is known that there were hundreds of contributors, most from San Francisco, but writers from all along the west coast of North America, from Canada to Mexico, are represented. They were written in Chinese poetry clubs based on prompts suggested by the "famous masters" of the title, including leaders of community organizations, newspaper editors, teachers, and scholars. They all address life in the United States.
These original anthologies group the folk songs into more than 70 categories, covering immigration, hardships in America, homesickness and loss, the suffering of women, wealth, Westernization, love, marriage, opium use, gambling, womanizing, and prostitutes. Many of the verses are written from the perspective of women, but according to Hom, most of them were likely written by men, a standard practice of Cantonese writers.
Vol. I: 59 double-page leaves; printed in China; string-bound in printed wrappers in the East Asian style; Vol II: 66 double-page leaves; printed in China; perfect bound in wrappers.
OCLC appears to locate just three complete sets, one in Hong Kong, one in London, and one at Cornell.
OCLC: 909485190 (vol. 1, Hong Kong); 34832307 (both volumes: Hong Kong; Cornell; SOAS London); 921936399 (vol. 2: British Columbia)
Edition + Condition: First editions (first printings of both volumes). Very good in the original printed wrappers. A small piece is missing from the upper left front corner of volume one; spotting and foxing to both volumes.
Publication: San Francisco: Daguang (Tai Quong) Book Printing Co., Ltd., 1911–1915.
Item No: #307489