This episode introduces some key players in the story of the Chinatown Massacre, and gives some background about the social and political conditions for Chinese Immigrants in Wild-West California.
Yut Ho and Ah Choy are based on historical figures. For more information about them, a great resource to check out is “The Chinatown War,” by Scott Zesch, who has collected and attempted to decode a number of primary sources contemporary with the events in this story.
Accounts of the lives of Chinese miners are scarce and unreliable. The closest thing we have to a primary source (in English) is this stunningly racist essay by author Henry Kitteridge Norton, published in 1924 and transcribed by the San Francisco Museum:
This and other similar sources supplied the material on the lives of Chinese miners. Historically, no murders of Whites by Chinese immigrants were recorded...until the day of the massacre, as we shall see. However, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
A wonderful fictional account of Chinese miners can be found in the Ken Liu story “All The Flavors,” published in “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” (2016) and available online for free.
Prostitution was actually much less prevalent in Chinatowns across California than politicians made it out to be in the late 1800’s. However, it was a constant danger for those few young women who made it through immigration. The old woman from the Huiguan (“benevolent association” in Cantonese) is fictional, but I have seen the Mahjong Halls of San Francisco Chinatown, and received the brutal solicitations for prostitution that hound young Asians of many genders across America, to this day.
The Characters are presented as speaking in Cantonese, rendered as an accessible, 20th-century English familiar to the listening public. So much for Historical Verisimilitude. Here is a basic lexicon for transliterated terms used in the story:
Gwailo: Translating as something like “ghost” or “foreign ghost,” it refers to western would-be-colonizers in China. Also used in the US, by such figures as that APB-busting superhero, Ghostface Killa.
Mei: a common Chinese diminutive for younger sister
Huiguan: A communal association designed to help get new immigrants on their feet. Often possessed of premises; a kind of outside-the-law town hall.
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