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The First Chinese American
The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo
Scott D. Seligman

Hong Kong University Press
April 30, 2013 / ISBN: 9888139908
Non Fiction/Biography

Reviewed by Nicole Merritt

Mr. Seligman is not just a writer but a China enthusiast. This is a wonderful story beginning with the first American husband and wife missionary team to arrive in Zhifu in 1858 to convert heathen Chinese to Christians.

Sallie Holmes was responsible for taking a then young Wong Sa Kee along on a trip to America in 1867 to make a proper Baptist Missionary out of him. This set the stage for Wong Chin Foo's emergence. There were many Chinamen, as they were known, in America at this time. But in a young Chinese boy's eyes, America held great interest.

This is a very inspiring story as well as an interesting time in American and Chinese history. With the United States deciding on the fate of Chinese emigrants while respecting China's control, Chinese were allowed to stay and respected without the hope of citizenship.

Wong Sa Kee returned to China after a three-year eastern education, changed his name, and took a wife. By this time he had given up on becoming a missionary, probably because of his enthralling view of America during his travels. The Chinese did not belief in an afterlife and the probability of Kee's decision to disengage in the concept seems natural. After a ill fated attempt to overthrow the Chinese government, barely escaping with his life, he changed his name again and retained passage to the U.S. in 1873. Not pausing to catch a breath, he began stirring up trouble. This would be the beginning of a life long pattern.

Wong Chin Foo, as he later became known, would champion the injustices of the hyphenated Americans of the nineteenth century the rest of his life. He became a social activist, being mentioned in more than 3,000 newspapers, when Chinese in American small towns were nearly non-existent.

I recommend this book highly as a unique and inspiring story and admire Seligman for his ability to pass this on to other Americans for their reading enjoyment.

Reviewed 2013