Themes and Meanings
Edith Maude Eaton (Sui Sin Far), an early feminist, freelance journalist, and short-story writer, was the first person of Chinese ancestry in the United States to write stories and articles containing positive portrayals of the Chinese. She was a Eurasian, born of a Chinese mother and an English father, whose appearance did not show her Chinese heritage. Despite her European appearance, she chose to live and write as a Chinese American during a period of powerful anti-Chinese sentiment. The deletion of her English name and her choice of the pseudonym, Sui Sin Far, “Water Lily,” or narcissus, indicates her identification with Chinese immigrants. She produced a small but important body of work that provides rare insights into the lives of Chinese and Chinese Americans in the early twentieth century. Her writings, including a collection of her short stories, Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912), deal sympathetically with their problems.
Lured by the California gold rush, many Chinese came to the “Gold Mountain” or the United States. Later, thousands more Chinese laborers were imported to finish the western stretch of the transcontinental railroad. After the completion of the railroad line in 1869, many Chinese men went to West Coast urban areas, where the only work permitted to them was cooking, gardening, and laundry. Because of their numbers, their appearance, their preference for their traditional Asian ways and customs, and the perception that...
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