A Trip Backwards: How People Thought of Interracial Marriages With Asian Men in the Past

People often say that to understand the present, you have to look at the past. That’s why I started my AMWF History series, to examine interracial relationships between Asian men and non-Asian women in earlier times.

So today, I’m revisiting some rather telling quotes from posts I’ve featured for AMWF History, in an effort to raise awareness about how people have talked about Asian men in interracial relationships years ago.

As I compiled this post, I found it disconcerting (but not surprising) that a number of the opinions described below still endure, including in dark corners of the internet. A lot of people still believe interracial love is wrong.

This list of quotes is by no means comprehensive. So please, sound off in the comments with your examples too — let’s continue the conversation together.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, 7 April 1883 (per Frederickbee.com) (featured in my post Sarah Burke and Wong Suey Wong, Arrested in 1883 USA (For Love)):

Sarah Burke, who has unalterably set her mind upon a disgusting marriage with a Chinese laundryman, acknowledged that she had passed a dismally and frigidly cold night in prison on Friday.

From the LA Herald piece “Married to Chinamen – White Women Who Accept Mongolian Husbands” (featured in my post 4 Stinging 1890s Quotes on White Women Who Loved Chinese Men):

The average American cannot understand how any human being, however inured by custom, can live in an average Chinatown. That white women should live there by deliberate choice seems to him monstrous, horrible.

She is but twenty-two years of age, remarkably beautiful and possessed of a voice that…would be a fortune. Yet three years ago, she met and loved a Chinaman.

It is also well known that not one Chinaman in a hundred comes to these shores without leaving behind a wife in China; so by the laws of China, the white wife is not a wife…

They have had six children, of whom five are living – bright, intelligent half breeds. And Mrs. Watson (her husband took that name when baptized) is still handsome and pleasant spoken.

From Culture Victoria (featured in my post Mei Quong Tart, A Chinese Gentleman and Leader in Victorian Australia):

Quong asked Margaret’s father, George Scarlett, for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Even though he was a friend of Quong’s, George refused. Quong Tart and Margaret waited until the day after her twenty-first birthday, on 30 August 1886, and married anyway. Quong was then thirty-six. The appearance of grandchildren eventually reconciled Margaret’s parents to their daughter’s marriage.

From Lisa See’s book On Gold Mountain (featured in my post Letticie “Ticie” Pruett and Fong See from Lisa See’s “On Gold Mountain”):

Letticie wrote her brothers of her marriage, and received a terse letter back, in which her family disowned her. How could she marry a Chinese? It was disgusting, they wrote, and she was no longer their sister. She knew she would never see or hear from any of them ever again.

From Moviemaker.com (featured in the post Cinematographer James Wong Howe and Author Sanora Babb):

Aunt Sanora told me that on one particular occasion when they were going out to dine at a Chinese restaurant, a woman had taken the time to follow them to the entrance of the establishment. As she harassed the two of them for being together, Aunt Sanora took the woman’s hat and tossed it in the gutter. Aunt Sanora remembers this woman chasing the hat down the sewer drain exclaiming, “My $100 hat!” When the miscegenation laws were repealed, it took them three days to find a judge who would marry them. When they finally did, the judge remarked, “She looks old enough. If she wants to marry a chink, that’s her business.”

From the Australian Maritime Museum (featured in the post Australian Women Who Married Indonesian Men, Supported Indonesian Independence in 1940s):

Lotte fell in love with Anton Maramis, a Manadonese petty officer, and married him with her family’s support, although she battled much antagonism from the broader Australian public she encountered. Many other young Australian women faced strong opposition from families and friends to the decisions they made to marry their Indonesian fiancés and return with them to their homes once Independence had been declared.

From the South China Morning Post (featured in the post Liverpool’s Lost Chinese Sailors, and the Families Left Behind in the UK)

Married or not, they earned a reputation in ultra-conservative post-war England as being “loose women” and, in another archive, Charles Foley found that government officials dismissed those married to or cohabiting with a Chinese partner as “the prostitute class”.

What quotes have you come across about how people in the past thought of interracial relationships with Asian men?

11 Replies to “A Trip Backwards: How People Thought of Interracial Marriages With Asian Men in the Past”

  1. Very hard to read. Discrimination runs deep then and now. I was asked to marry a Korean man but the family in Korea said “if you marry a white woman that is older than you and not Korean, we will disown you”.
    Strangely enough, in Australia, I have found Asian men with white men as acceptable and it is lovely to see. Even in my own circle of friends this is the case. Generally speaking an Asian man with a white woman is frowned upon and the white woman considered less than deserving.
    Sad actually.
    I am a strong believer of love is love and allow love to foster regardless of gender or cultural background.

  2. The UK still does deport many spouses of UK citizens even those who entered legally, particularly non-white spouses marrying whites. Also please read about the Windrush generation. The Trump admin and Stephen Miller would like to stop foreign spouses (especially non-whites marrying white Americans) from migrating the US without much success. Actually legal immigration increased slightly over the past two years. Australian attitude comes somewhere in between.

    1. Thanks for sharing David. Yes, I have heard about what happened to the Windrush generation, and also read about the Trump administration’s interest in barring those foreign spouses from coming to the US.

  3. Thank you for bringing attention to these beautiful stories! So happy the world is changing(and hopefully not sliding backwards)

  4. Hi Jocelyn!

    Thank you for this beautiful piece:

    One of the book you might be interested is Red at Heart: How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution by Elizabeth McGuire. I cannot think of another better book that captured both the political and the personal better.

    The under-research part of AMWF (maybe just in the English speaking world) history is the Chinese labour who married French and Belgian women during WW I (briefly mentioned in the Xu Guoqi’s Strangers on the Western Front) .

    One of the few good thing that comes out from the last couple of sordid years is that people began to put race and immigration into the context of capitalism and imperialism again. And to know the present, we have to look at the past to see where it spawns from.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Shao the Sheeple. I’ll see if I can find those books you mentioned, interesting chapters in history! Agree, there is a positive side to what has happened in past couple of years.

  5. Hi Jocelyn! I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and just had to comment on your wonderful article. As a historian who recently got engaged to her AM fiance, I love your series on AMWF relationships in their historical context! I find it really interesting how perspectives on Asian men wrt to masculinity has changed over the centuries. The article you mentioned paints Chinese men as lecherous and subhuman, and also assumes there must be something “wrong” with the Caucasian women who love them. This is also present in the rise of Sessue Hiyakawa as a sex symbol, and ultimately comes to a head in the desexualized image of Asia men in current Western media.

    This is something I’ve also encountered in coverage about white supremacy groups. White supremacist men usually assume there’s “wrong” with white women who love Asia men, like we’re just so undesirable that only the lowest of men would want us. Of course these are usually the men who can’t “get” a woman at home and so resort to preying on women living in poverty in developing nations.

    1. Hi Half of a Lifelong Romance, thank you for the comment! That’s fantastic you’re a historian…I’m sure you’d make for some fascinating conversations on these topics. Yes, good point about Hiyakawa. And I’ve noticed the same about white supremacist groups…not to mention how they talk about us.

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